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Healthcare Organizations Work Smarter With Process Improvement
By John B. Jones

Healthcare organizations across the country are preparing for or are in the middle of major process changes enabling the switch to digital and implementation EHRs. Adding to the pressure of transition, a recent study by Thomson Reuters found that healthcare organizations waste between $600 billion and $850 billion per year, 17% of which can be attributed to administrative inefficiency.

The healthcare industry cannot sustain this unnecessary spending, especially considering the steep learning curve and evolving efficiency requirements from Washington that are associated with EHR adoption. Automating information must happen now, as the industry can no longer effectively maintain a records system that is primarily paper based. But many providers fear that implementing an EHR system will make things worse before they get better.

All technological innovation is met with initial hesitancy—consider, for example, the introduction of ATMs or online banking. The potential benefits are easy to see, but it can be difficult to make the jump. Healthcare organizations recognizing the challenges of EHR adoption are easing the transition by seeking support in the form of process improvement methodology. Proactively managing the change process can deliver reduced operational costs and streamlined processes for improved productivity— making it easier to get over the hurdle.

As organizations work to re-create the way they document patient care, many are finding that optimizing processes deploys new efficiencies and allows staff to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on the real business—healthcare. To achieve this, 53% of hospitals have implemented a Lean initiative and 42% are using Six Sigma, according to a recent study by The American Society for Quality. Combining the two methodologies into Lean Six Sigma creates a rigorous, data-driven, and results-oriented approach, harnessing the speed of Lean and the quality of Six Sigma.

Lean Six Sigma’s flexibility and applicability make it increasingly relevant to service sectors as it provides critical differentiation from competitors by driving strategic planning and decision making and delivering value to consumers. Thinking in terms of process improvement has never been more important, and the healthcare industry is saying good-bye to the days when Lean and Six Sigma were secret weapons reserved for manufacturing companies and big players.

Organizations must develop systems that integrate paper and electronic documents seamlessly. American healthcare can simply no longer provide top-quality service while using paper-based records; but for reasons ranging from regulatory to patient convenience, paper can’t be eliminated completely.

To achieve this type of integration, Lean Six Sigma assessments evaluate current workflow processes and identify ways to improve productivity by removing nonvalue-added steps and reducing errors. The assessments also take into consideration employee work habits, leading to recommendations for new solutions to make the staff as productive as possible.

A successful process-improvement program will include the following:

Automating and integrating information will carry the industry toward more meaningful performance. Using Lean Six Sigma to gain control of all document processes creates the foundation for a smooth transition and for organizations to come out on the other side more cost-efficient and productive than ever.

— John B. Jones is vice president of healthcare providers for Xerox Global Services.