Methods to capture workflow

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In the process of implementing any new systems in the hospital, it is imperative to do workflow studies to determine the “as-is” (current state) and the “to-be” (future state) work processes of the healthcare providers.


Two methods commonly used by project teams to capture the workflows are the time-motion study and the work sampling study.

Time motion study

Time motion study basically means the study of what a person is doing and how long it takes to do it. It involves the investigator to follow the subject and record the temporal aspects of events (e.g. tasks) under evaluation. This method is also known as the stop ]watch method and is currently considered as the gold standard in performing a workflow study. It gives detailed description of the workflow processes of the healthcare provider. However, it is tedious and labor intensive and hence is more costly as well. The investigator has to keep up and follow the subject studied for long periods of time as well as capture as accurate as possible the time take to perform the action.

Work sampling

Work sampling on the other hand is counting how many times the action is done by the subject observed in a fixed time, for eg, how many times the physician looks to the computer screen in a 10 minutes consultation. This method can be directly observed, or the person him/herself can keep a log on it. This workflow capturing method can be non-reliable, especially if the person him/her selves have to logs in the data. Also this method may not be feasible if the person has to keep continually travel from one place to another, as the investigator will then have to keep following up with him/her. However, compared to Time-motion studies, work sampling does not introduce as much bias as time-motion studies, as the investigator does not shadow the user as much. As data from work-sampling studies are usually extrapolated, a larger sample size is required to get better data representation.

Irregardless of what method is used, a detailed mapping of the workflow is needed to ensure success in the reaching the goals of the change in process.


  1. A comparison of time-and-motion and self-reporting methods of work measurement. Burke TA, McKee JR, Wilson HC, Donahue RM, Batenhorst AS, Pathak DS. J Nurs Adm. 2000 Mar;30(3):118-2
  2. Modeling Clinical Trials Workflow in Community Practice Settings Sharib A. Khan, MBBS MA,1 Philip R.O. Payne, MPhil,1 Stephen B. Johnson, PhD,1 J. Thomas Bigger, MD,2 and Rita Kukafka, DrPH, MA1,3 AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2006; 2006: 419–423.
  3. A Comparison of Work-Sampling and Time-and-Motion Techniques for Studies in Health Services Research .Steven A. Finkler, James R. Knickman, Gerry Hendrickson, Mack Lipkin, Jr., and Warren G. Thompson.. Health Serv Res. 1993 December; 28(5): 577–597.

Submitted by Jo Nie Sua

Workflow Analysis

Workflow, as defined by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), is the sequence of physical and mental tasks performed by various people within and between work environments. It can occur at several levels (one person, between people, across organizations) and can occur sequentially or simultaneously. For example, the workflow of ordering a medication includes communication between the provider and the patient, the provider's thought process, the physical action by the provider of writing a paper prescription or entering an electronic prescription into an electronic health record and transmitting the order electronically or having the patient take the prescription to the pharmacy to have the prescription filled.

It is important to assess workflow because anytime a change is made to the clinical practice, such as implementing an EHR, the workflow associated with clinical and practice management processes will change. Research assessing health IT implementations demonstrates that delays in patient care, billing, and communication are likely to occur if workflow is not taken into account. This is generally due to the fact that clinical and practice management requirements are overlooked or oversimplified. Workflow information should be collected as early as possible, and preferably before implementing a health IT system. As a form of ongoing process improvement, workflows should continue to be assessed after EHR deployment.

One of the best ways to assess workflow is through flowcharts. Flowcharts visually convey the steps in a process, are easy to use, and require little or no training to complete.

Flowcharts: • Examine the handoffs that occur in a process. • Demonstrate current processes and aid in identifying areas for improvement. • Identify personnel, groups, or entire departments that are responsible for processes or tasks. • Show the steps in a process. • Find one or multiple sources of a problem or identify potential areas for improvement.

Steps in making a flowchart: 1. DEFINE THE PROCESS that will be represented in the flowchart. 2. DETERMINE ALL INDIVIDUALS, DEPARTMENTS, AND GROUPS INVOLVED in the process. 3. BRAINSTORM THE STEPS in the process. The specific sequence is less important than determining all of the steps at this point (although thinking sequentially may help identify any missing steps). 4. CONSTRUCT THE FLOWCHART GRAPHICALLY using rows or columns corresponding to the associated work units (e.g., provider, nursing). 5. ARRANGE THE STEPS SEQUENTIALLY 6. DRAW ARROWS between steps to show the process flow. 7. REVIEW THE FLOWCHART and validate its accuracy with other individuals who are actually involved in the process.

Advantages of flowcharts: • Demonstrates whether the flow of events makes sense and is smooth or if there is a lot of back-and-forth (numerous handoffs) between individuals. • Highlights areas where decisions must be made. • Shows which parts of a process are redundant or out of place. • Identifies who completes each task in addition to what gets done. • Shows areas that can be improved. • Allows staff to clearly visualize their roles. • Easy to learn and create.

Disadvantages: • Does not show value. • Requires in-depth knowledge of the process.


Carayon P, Karsh B-T, Cartmill RS, et al. Incorporating Health Information Technology Into Workflow Redesign--Summary Report. (Prepared by the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement, University of Wisconsin–Madison, under Contract No. HHSA 290-2008-10036C). AHRQ Publication No. 10-0098-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. October 2010.

--Msoutzen 07:57, 8 March 2012 (PST)