How the Healthcare Industry Uses Lean Six Sigma to Optimize Processes

Lean Six Sigma principles are key to optimizing processes in the healthcare industry. Many issues can decrease patient satisfaction, such as inefficient check-in processes, wrong diagnoses, or long wait times for appointments. 

As patient care is so hands-on, variants are more common in healthcare than in many other industries and can be smaller and harder to quantify. Six Sigma has shown measurable results in healthcare organizations and here are some of the key principles they use. 

The focus is always on the patient

The focus is always on patient experience and deviations from a target represent areas where outcomes fall short of patient expectations. For instance, reducing patient wait times for appointments or the length of their hospital stays increases their satisfaction levels. 

One area some hospitals are tackling is errors in administering medication. Using the DMAIC method helps them to define, measure, analyze, improve and control the problem. Another area where they are using Six Sigma to improve patient satisfaction is the time taken for insurance claim reimbursements. 

6Sigma.us offers Six Sigma certification. This certification enables an improvement team to apply Six Sigma principles within an organization and deliver quantifiable, sustainable improvements. 

Improvement is a continuous process

When using Six Sigma, health organizations embrace the fact that ongoing improvements are vital to their success. As soon as one process reaches the Six Sigma level of accuracy, they go on to the next performance improvement plan. Project selection involves choosing projects that offer the greatest impact and the most manageable effort while still aligning with organizational strategy. 

Eliminating waste enhances outcomes

Six Sigma helps to identify unnecessary actions within organizational processes. Wasteful steps increase the time taken to complete tasks, the chances of making mistakes, and the overall costs of the process. By identifying and eliminating wasteful steps, it is possible to improve patient satisfaction and reduce costs. 

For example, addressing the check-in process involves defining problems with the process and measuring all the steps to find out what is slowing it down. What steps could possibly be eliminated or streamlined? 

Some healthcare organizations are getting insurance information ahead of patient arrival in the case of non-emergencies to speed up the check-in process. Other forms of waste healthcare organizations are addressing using Six Sigma are excessive administrative overheads or wasted clinical spending. 

Reducing process variations increases efficiency 

Errors occur more often when different divisions within an organization perform a process differently. Six Sigma focuses on standardizing processes to reduce the deviations which can result from using a variety of methods. 

Much of the work done in hospitals and other healthcare settings involves many processes. Using Six Sigma to reduce process variations ensures more efficiency. By following standardized processes, medical personnel are less likely to make errors. This improves many different areas such as admitting and discharging patients, caring for patients after surgery, processing invoices and organizing nursing rotas

Leadership development is crucial

Upper management within healthcare organizations has to be on board or any progress won’t be sustainable. Six Sigma stresses leadership development at every level to make sure there’s consistency throughout the organization and that staff can embrace the changes and be part of them. 

The executive team of an organization must identify the right talent for the right projects and give them support to become effective leaders as they move through the different Sigma ‘belt’ levels. Master Black Belts are the highest certification. 

They manage black and green belts and mentor and train others in Six Sigma. Green Belts use Six Sigma methods daily in their work and may take leadership roles on some projects, while black belts take leadership roles on more challenging projects. 

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