A nurse searching through paper patient files.
What is the difference between patient movement both across and within healthcare settings?

Patient flow versus patient journey

When designing and delivering the best possible patient experience and care, we first need to distinguish the difference between patient journey and patient flow.

While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably to describe patient movements, there are some important key differences to consider.

For example, patient journey is understood as patient movement across the health system and describes all the sequential steps of providing a patient’s care. The course this journey takes will vary depending on a number of factors, including funding mechanisms and whether the patient is being treated via a planned (elective) or emergency pathway (as shown in this diagram).

Patient journey Source: Rasa, J. (2019). ©Deakin University.

On the other hand, patient flow describes patient movement within hospital or medical unit/s. This movement can be between staff, departments and services, and does not necessarily relate to the actual physical movement of patients from one hospital or healthcare setting to another.

Hospital case studies

To find out more about the difference between patient journey and patient flow, watch these videos based on case studies from the United Kingdom.

Patient journey

A knee replacement patient journey at BMI Healthcare

Patient flow

Patient Journey at Spire Southampton Hospital

As you’ll see in these videos, there’s a significant difference between patient journey and patient flow.

Appreciating this distinction is important when describing, analysing, managing and improving hospital operations.

For more detailed information about the difference between patient journey and patient flow, take a look at the see also links at the end of this page.

Your task

Based on what we’ve covered in this step, how would you distinguish the difference between patient journey and patient flow?

Reflecting on the videos provided, have you had similar experiences, challenges or perhaps even successes, in improving this journey when compared to your learning peers?

To do this, consider the patients/clients who use your services and reflect on the following:

  • How do they access your services?
  • What is the primary patient journey that leads them to you?
  • What could be improved in terms of either or both of patient journey/flow?

Use the comments to post and discuss your thoughts with other learners.

Remember to use like and reply to extend conversational threads in addition to starting your own.

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This article is from the free online course:

Hospital Operations: Improving Patient Experience

Deakin University

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