Background. The seasonal influenza epidemic poses a significant burden on hospitals, both in terms of capacity and costs. Beds that are occupied by isolated influenza patients result in hospitals temporary being closed to admissions and elective operations being cancelled. Improving hospital and emergency department (ED) patient flow during the influenza season could solve these problems. Microbiological point-of-care-testing (POCT) could reduce unnecessary patient isolation by providing a positive/negative result before admission, but has not yet broadly been implemented.
Methods. A clinical pathway for patients with acute respiratory tract infection presenting at the ED was implemented, including a PCR-based POCT for influenza, operated by nurses and receptionists. In parallel, a temporary ward equipped with 15 beds for influenza-positive patients was established. In this retrospective observational study, we describe the results of implementing this pathway by comparison with the previous epidemic.
Results. Clinical performance of the POCT within the clinical pathway was good with strongly decreased time from ED presentation to sample collection (194 vs 47 min) and time from sample collection to result (1094 vs 62 min). Hospital patient flow was improved by a decreased percentage of admitted influenza-positive patients (91% vs 73%) and shorter length of subsequent stay (median 5.86 vs 4.61 days) compared to the previous influenza epidemic. In addition, 430 patient-days of unnecessary isolation have been prevented within a time span of 18 weeks. Roughly estimated savings were almost 400,000 euros.
Conclusion. We recommend that hospitals explore possibilities for improving patient flow during an influenza