How Six Sigma is Making Healthcare Processes More Efficient

By Robert Lear posted 07-06-2021 11:44 PM


Many healthcare practices and hospitals have adopted Six Sigma principles to help make their processes more streamlined and promote better patient care. Using the Six Sigma methodology helps to eliminate variants and defects in processes. 

In healthcare, defects can consist of anything that decreases patient satisfaction from long wait times for appointments to incorrect diagnoses. The hands-on nature of patient care also means the possibility for variants is greater than in other industries and these variants are often smaller and harder to quantify. Six Sigma is shown to offer measurable results in a healthcare setting.

Five steps for quality improvement offers training classes in Lean Six Sigma, including options for beginners. Lean Six Sigma training introduces trainees to five steps for quality improvement. The DMAIC method steps are: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. 

Defining involves determining who the patients are and what they want, the capabilities of the processes being measured and the objectives. Measuring takes place to determine what the improvements will look like and what metrics to use to define performance. Analyzing involves collecting data and analyzing it using proven tools. Modifications are then implemented and performance is monitored to maintain improvements. 

Example: Improve check-in process

Using Six Sigma methodology to improve the check-in process at a hospital would involve first defining the problems with the process and setting certain goals i.e. shorter wait times. 

A process map to detail each step of the check-in process would make measuring each step possible. This would reveal how the current process is performing and identify any bottlenecks that were slowing it down. 

Analyzing the data would show the root causes of bottlenecks and reveal which elements to eliminate or streamline. 

Solutions would be developed and tested to improve check-ins. This could perhaps involve improving doctor/nurse coordination or getting insurance information ahead of patient arrival in non-emergencies. 

Frequently monitoring and documenting each improvement would be necessary and having a control chart could establish the effectiveness of the improved process over time. 

Improve patient care

Using Six Sigma methodology means the focus is always on the patient and it can improve patient care in some of the following ways:

  • Reduce physician, technician and nurse errors. 
  • Prevent falls and injuries in hospitals and nursing homes.
  • Reduce wait times for appointments and length of hospital stays.
  • Improve lab turnaround times.
  • Improve patient outcomes.
  • Accelerate insurance claim reimbursement.
  • Cost savings and quality improvement

In hospitals where the Six Sigma methodology has been adopted, wait times have declined, providers have seen more patients and hospitals have experienced savings. Employee and physician satisfaction rates have also improved. Some hospitals have increased their capacity to handle surgery cases and implementing Six Sigma in intensive care units has seen fewer bloodstream infections and increased savings. 

So much of the work done in healthcare organizations revolves around processes so it makes sense to examine them and ensure they are carried out in the most efficient way. This can improve the scheduling of appointments, processing of invoices, admitting and discharging of patients and coordination of nursing rotas. 

Eliminate waste

In the healthcare industry, waste is a big issue. Excess administrative overheads are one form of waste. Inefficient production processes lead to operational waste. Wasted clinical spending is another big problem. Excessive antibiotic use, avoidable emergency department use, inappropriate hysterectomies and needless hospital admissions for chest pain are just some examples of wasted clinical spending. 

Lean Six Sigma can reduce all of these forms of waste and help deal with the rising costs of health care. For example, simply reducing administrative complexity can reduce administrative overheads significantly.