Process improvement in healthcare
- Choose priorities carefully
- Enhance the delivery of patient care
- Improve patient flow
- Create a common language
- Prioritize process KPIs
- Celebrate early impact
- Focus on the data
When it comes to process improvement in healthcare, the overarching goals are better patient outcomes and operational excellence.
Improving processes in any industry is a long-term, strategic initiative that’s continuous and ongoing. It requires the participation of leadership and frontline employees. Organizations can’t achieve it using a top-down approach. Instead, gathering feedback from all levels of the healthcare organization and implementing iterative process improvement is the best way to reach goals.
Choose priorities carefully
One of the major hurdles that organizations face when implementing process improvement in healthcare is that they begin with too many priorities. With dozens of targets and KPIs, it can be challenging to focus on each area with the kind of concentration required to make a difference.
Instead, it’s best to select three to five priorities, such as improving quality of care and becoming financially efficient, and work toward achieving those metrics. Once the organization has met those priorities, it can move on to other goals.
Enhance the delivery of patient care
Regardless of the kind of healthcare organization, enhancing patient care should be one of the key objectives of process improvement. KPIs for this objective can include elements such as length of stay, mortality rate, and costs for admitted patients.
It’s vital to understand the entire patient experience — from the moment they call to book an appointment or walk through the doors to the time they’re discharged and no longer require care — and determine which points in the patient journey require streamlining.
Improve patient flow
Process improvement in healthcare should consider how to optimize the flow of individual patients within the hospital or clinic. By doing so, healthcare organizations can reduce patient wait times and staff overtime.
This can also lead to better patient outcomes. For example, if a patient has appointments with multiple departments during one visit, what’s the best course of action? Should they visit the obstetrics department first, or is it more efficient to begin in cardiology?
Create a common language
Employees in the healthcare field, especially frontline workers, may not be familiar with process improvement methodologies like Six Sigma and Lean. Introducing new ways of working with an unfamiliar language can be stressful and confusing.
In many healthcare organizations, process improvement may be more successful if you use plain language instead, ensuring healthcare staff can relate to process improvement methodologies by translating them into healthcare-specific terms.
Prioritize process KPIs
The key KPIs in process improvement are related to patient outcomes. However, it’s also important to keep an eye on metrics related to the processes themselves, such as how long a particular process takes. Through this analysis, healthcare organizations can get a handle on which processes may be negatively affecting patient outcomes and then streamline their workflows.
Celebrate early impact
Process improvement in healthcare, as in any industry, is a long-term initiative, not a passing fad. It can take time for staff to get used to a new way of working, and some employees may not initially feel comfortable with the organization’s process changes.
As a result, it’s important to celebrate the initial impact of the process improvements and showcase quick wins publicly. This helps to build more faith in the process improvement initiatives and encourages healthcare staff to continue seeking ways to streamline workflows.
Focus on the data
Regardless of which process improvement methodologies the healthcare organization uses, such as Lean, Six Sigma, or Kaizen, it’s vital to have a data-driven approach. Measuring process KPIs for the key areas of focus will help organizations detect early wins and potential problems — and work to resolve them expediently.
A data-first approach is also necessary in the continuous improvement methodology, where iterative changes over a long period of time lead the organization to reach its objectives.
Process improvement in healthcare is a long-term journey to better patient care and operational efficiency. By homing in on the priorities and working to improve the entire patient journey through a data-driven approach, healthcare organizations can reach their targets and ensure better patient outcomes.