Hospital Zone: The Six Sigma Solution

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By Jason Piatt

Here’s what we know. In manufacturing, Six Sigma methodologies aim at improving overall quality by eliminating defects and achieving near perfection by restricting the number of defects to less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.  It has become a very popular and widely utilized quality improvement methodology in manufacturing environments.  So, how can we expect what works on an assembly line to be effecitve in a healthcare setting? Improved systems, methodologies and better accuracy and faster patient response.

The concepts and methodologies of Six Sigma are increasingly being used in the healthcare industry for improving quality of services rendered, increasing efficiency, and eliminating human errors that can often prove fatal.  Expectations for improved medical care are ever increasing.  Due to a lack of rigorous quality management systems, inefficiency is increasing, which often leads to congested emergency rooms, customer complaints, and lost revenues.  A proper Six Sigma implementation helps to resolve these issues through a strategy of continuous improvement.

Four Steps for Sequencing the Six Sigma Rollout

1.  Give C-leaders an early peek.  With existing concerns as to whether Six Sigma can work in the specialized environment of healthcare — it is essential to address them through demonstration of the Six Sigma value. Conduct a few projects prior to rolling out the program throughout the healthcare facility system. A strong way to begin is showing improvements through Six Sigma inoperating room utilization or improving evaluation of the patient admission process to either observation or inpatient status. These short-term projects typically yield results significant enough to justify a system-wide rollout of Six Sigma.

2.  Train all leaders. Not a few — but all of your top leaders should be trained to the Champion level of Six Sigma before a full roll-out is implemented.  A short three-day seminar is enough to allow organizational leaders to have a better understanding of Six Sigma methodology and rollout strategy.  Actual process improvement experiments emphasize the critical factors that must be controlled in order to successfully implement Six Sigma.  Champions are trained to identify projects, select Black Belt candidates, and support the candidates through all project phases.Depending on the culture of your organization — It may even be worthwhile training the Board of Directors and Physician Heads to insure total understanding and acceptance of the Six Sigma structure.

3.  Getting started & setting priorities. After the organizational leaders are trained, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is used to identify key problems within the organization.  This results in a list of projects that can be used by Champions within the organization.  This list is prioritized based on ranking against strategic objectives such as improved customer satisfaction, patient and employee safety, or clinical outcomes.

4.  Objectives set & full-training begins. With a full list of potential projects, training throughout the organization is conducted.  While proper black belt training is typically at least four to six weeks in duration, significant quality impact can be made by employees who receive as little as two weeks of training in Six Sigma methodology.  For a small to medium-sized facility, the cost of training the organization is around $125,000 to $150,000 (including only external costs for trainers, supplies, and software tools).  Return from the first year’s efforts should be multiples of this cost in terms of process improvements, gains in safety and satisfaction, as well as financial returns. 

Six Sigma can’t solve every hospital problem — nursing shortage, reduced budgets, admin shortfalls and other issues based on external factors will still exist — but it can serve as a breakthrough to improved quality within your hospital and healthcare organization.  Six Sigma can significantly revitalize your processes and the results will drive up workforce morale and impact patient satisfaction. Start today!

For over 15 years, Jason Piatt has served as President of Praestar Technology Corporation, the leading provider of Lean & Six Sigma consulting and training services  in the Mid-Atlantic region. His successful projects include bringing ROI to hospital and healthcare environments. Piatt holds B.S & M.S. degrees in engineering from Bucknell University, an MBA from Mount St. Mary’s University, an EC from MIT.