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Glossary Terms

What is Acuity?

What is Acuity?

In general English, the definition of acuity is the strength of a function or sense — e.g., good emotional acuity, mental acuity, or acuity of vision. It comes from the medieval Latin term, acuitatem, which translates to sharpness. The original Latin developed into the French acuité, the Spanish agudeza, the Latvian acuitās, and of course, the British or American word acuity.

But, when used in healthcare contexts such as nursing, emergency rooms, and critical care, acuity primarily refers to the severity of a patient's illness. In this context, acuity is used as shorthand to describe the priority in which clients should be seen. For example, a "high-acuity patient" is severely ill and should receive care before others with less urgent needs. With acuity in health plans & value-based care, it's often a measurement of patient's health so they can be targeted for a higher level of care.

Example sentences that could be synonyms for acuity could be:

  • How urgently a patient needs to be seen.

  • Who needs treatment now and who can safely wait without the risk of a negative outcome.

Rating Acuity in the Healthcare Workplace

As there is no universally accepted acuity scale, a healthcare facility's leadership team will develop its own. Acuity scales may be based on the types of patients a facility cares for or the volume of inpatients expected at varying times.

However, one thing all healthcare facilities or ambulatory providers should have in common is a carefully documented record of their acuity criteria that forms the basis of a treatment policy. High-acuity patients are also sometimes referred to as requiring critical or emergent care. Low-acuity patients may be those who self-refer or who are cared for on a remote basis.

Some acuity levels that healthcare professionals may observe and prioritize include:

  • Pain

  • Oxygen levels

  • Blood pressure

  • Overall patient stability

  • Mental distress

  • Markers for undiagnosed critical conditions, e.g., a drooping face could indicate a stroke

Patients requiring close or regular monitoring will score higher acuity on most scales.

Acuity is also useful for understanding the staffing needs of a healthcare provider. If a facility or ambulatory provider has a number of high-acuity patients to attend to, then they know to keep a high volume of team members on call or present in the clinical setting.

Conversely, if there are many low-acuity patients, the use of telemedicine and other connected options can be leveraged to aid these individuals. They still require care and treatment, however specialists, emergency medical service (EMS) providers, and critical care nurses can allocate their time to patients who have more urgent requirements.

Acuity in EHR Systems

Most electronic healthcare record (EHR) systems incorporate acuity to capture and prioritize patient needs. Therefore, this module of an EHR system might be referred to as an acuity system, where admissions, patient needs, treatment and medication applied, discharges, and transfers undergo continuous analysis.

EHR systems can also have integrations with patient services such as a booking page where appointments can be made with relevant medical professionals, or telemedicine options such as remote diagnosis tools. These integrations may even connect to medical apps on a smart device, such as an iPhone or Android phone. These are excellent for collating and sifting patient data such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels, to understand the acuteness of a condition and if urgent interventions are required.

Acuity systems can help assess resource needs at a healthcare facility or unit. For example, charge nurses use an electronic system's historical acuity data to anticipate staffing needs for future shifts.

The process of using objective and quantifiable acuity system data to inform scheduling and resource allocation is known as acuity-based staffing. One of the overall goals of acuity-based staffing is to add consistency and objectivity to patient assignments.

Just as visual acuity can mean keenness of eyesight, effective patient acuity management creates a finely honed system where everyone gets the care they need.

How TempDev Can Help With Acuity

TempDev's team of NextGen consultants, developers, and trainers support your needs whether you're looking to implement, switch, or upgrade your current EHR system. From dashboards and revenue cycle consulting to automation and workflow redesign, TempDev offers the tools you need to make the most of your NextGen EHR system — with top tips and tricks that will ensure your success now and in the future.

Using TempDev's NextGen dashboardstemplates, and reports, you can better support your patients' needs. Our team is here to help you design, organize, and implement the system and is on hand to offer guidance based on industry best practices.

Contact us here or by calling 888.TEMP.DEV to get the help you need to measure patient acuity with your EHR.

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