CPOE: Six Sigma for Healthcare?

Today I learned about a new program that’s being used in healthcare organizations. It gives me great hope that something significant is on the horizon. It’s called Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) and the many healthcare professionals that read this site probably know about it already — but I’ll share what I learned for the benefit of everyone else.

CPOE is a computer application that allows physicians to enter orders for patient prescriptions and tests, rather than on paper (usually in illegible writing). This alone would amount to nothing more than simple workflow automation, but CPOE goes well beyond replacing paper orders with electronic ones. It has many features that a seasoned Lean or Six Sigma practitioner would be pleased to hear about.

By comparing orders against known standards for prescription doses, drug interactions, patient allergies and treatment procedures, it provides the ability to flag problems much more quickly and efficiently allowing a new level of security screening for patient health.

Benefits achieved from CPOE include:


  • Less paper, filing and storage
  • Reduction of medication errors, the largest single cause of medical errors in hospitals
  • Reduction of costs through avoided adverse events
  • Recommended best practices in patient health care
  • Shorter hospital lengths of stay


So what’s the bad news, you ask? Very few hospitals have implemented CPOE. According to Will Weider, CIO of Affinity Health Systems, only .08% of American community hospitals have implemented CPOE.

I look forward to learning more about CPOE. If any iSixSigma readers have had the opportunity to work on or with a CPOE system, please post your comments and thoughts. Readers can learn more about CPOE at

Comments 4

  1. Will Weider

    The greatest barrier to CPOE is that puts a new burden on the hospital’s customer: the doctor.

    That’s right the doctor is the hospital’s primary customer. Patients can’t admit themselves, the doctors need to do admit them. If the doctor doesn’t like the computer system that you are forcing them to use then they will go somewhere else.

    Unfortunately most of these systems are too difficult to use and don’t deliver significant added value. They are not designed with usability in mind and they present the doctors with either too many or not enough valuable alerts. The software category is just too immature. Does anyone remember WordStar and the Control-K commands? That is where we are with CPOE software.

  2. Greg Sutton

    The new CPOE systems are a far cry from the old Wordstat Will mentions. I built a CPOE system at Children’s Hospital Oakland. All calculations were handled by the screens. When the pharmacy got the order, it could be read, the calculations were correct and the need for follow up calls was cut to near nothing. Med errors were way below the national average. The physicians kept me very busy with demands for new order sets. The order set automated best practice and made it difficult for resident physicians to make mistakes.

    I could go on, but this alone is a huge leap forward for increased efficiency, patient safety and yes Will, physician satifaction.

  3. Jackie

    I’m just beginning a Six Sigma project re CPOE in a hospital about lost productivity. If anyone can give me any advice on what to do and what NOT to do I would great appreciate the knowledge share.

  4. Ivan

    I’m getting ready to start on a Six Sigma project on CPOE implementation, and I was wondering how your project went. I would really appreciate a chance to talk to you. Not sure if you will see this comment, since you posted a year and a half ago… Could you please let me know if you see the post?

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