The technology that had made healthcare so great in this country has also been at the center of many roadblocks to quality. It has long been the notion that as technology advances in healthcare, so should the quality and efficiency of the process. Therefore, it is the tendency to add technology wherever technology can be added. This adds cost to an industry that is already experiencing increased cost, as well as decreased reimbursement rates. Further, as a Lean Six Sigma expert stated at a conference I recently attended, adding technology to an inefficient process only produces inefficiencies at the “speed of light.” Therefore, it is the opinion of many industry experts that innovation in healthcare requires not only technology, but improved processes to assist the delivery of technological advances. To gain efficiencies, a systematic review of the processes, using Lean Six Sigma, is necessary to enhance the delivery of healthcare.
According to Deming and his 85/15 rule, 85% of the inefficiencies within an organization are due to flaws in the process while 15% of the inefficiencies were due to human error. It cannot be argued that human error is an inevitable fact. While no one in healthcare purposely errors, it becomes unavoidable in a complex system composed of numerous, multi-departmental, processes. Unfortunately, identifying the errors is easier than fixing them in such a complex system. Application of Lean Six Sigma to healthcare requires all departments of a healthcare organization to set standards that all must follow. All of the tools of Lean, combined with Six Sigma, aim at identifying aspects of the process that can be eliminated in order to gain efficiencies in process flow and eliminate error.
There is no cookbook for a successful Lean Six Sigma implementation because of the reality that each organization has its own unique products, processes, and people. However, there is no excuse for not using the tools that Lean and Six Sigma provide to solve a problem. These methodologies, while rooted in manufacturing, have no boundaries for what kind of organization they can be applied to. So long as an organization is compelled to identify an opportunity to eliminate waste and standardize their processes, the combination of Lean Six Sigma can be a powerful vehicle to drive an organization’s success.
Once these efficiencies have been achieved, processes will begin to move at the “speed of light,” and technology can then further enhance the delivery of care.