21 Oct 4 Straightforward Strategies to Improve Healthcare Processes
The process improvement process in healthcare systems should be deeply rooted in an organization’s mission. Operational efficiency improvements in healthcare are often overlooked as a focus due to other competing priorities such as ensuring patient satisfaction and delivering quality clinical care.
Enterprises should consider how intertwined these metrics are to ensure the overall success of the operation. For example, if excessive patient wait times are a direct result of poor operational processes, as they almost always are, then patient satisfaction will naturally suffer. The capability of a healthcare enterprise to deliver services to its patients in the most cost-effective manner possible while still ensuring the highest quality of service and support are at the center of what operational optimization entails.
Process improvement should be a major component of the organization’s mission and objectives. While creating such a major initiative takes time and effort, below are four ways that healthcare organizations can immediately assess and improve their overall operation.
Focus on the Front End Operations to Prevent Backups Down the Chain
For healthcare leaders that focus on just one thing, looking at the front end operational flow is a great place to start. Inefficiencies or hold ups in front end operations such as the intake area often have a cascading effect, causing delays that multiply over the course of the day. Whether it is an everyday process that adds 30 seconds onto a process, or a kink in the system that happens on occasion, the ability to identify and smooth out these processes can have significant impact on operational flow. Better understand the front lines of the business and you will realize the outsized importance that these departments have on the overall operational process as well as how it impacts the patient experience.
Empower Individuals to Make Decisions and Delegate Authority
There are many reasons that delegation helps improve an organization, but here we will focus on the process improvement side of things. Often, processes get bogged down in situations that arise outside of normal protocol. While there is no avoiding these situations, steps can be taken to allow processes to get back on track by providing front line employees with the right tools and knowledge to move forward. Managers should start by focusing and documenting what items or issues cause interruptions throughout the day and require their attention or the attention of others to aid in resolution. Armed with this information, consider the following question: is the requirement of another individual needed, but doesn’t necessarily need them for completion? Sometimes the yes answer may be straightforward, and other times it may require further development for the affirmative to be true. Once the employees have been empowered to directly deal with more kinks in the chain, flow can stay on track.
Increase Use and Functionality and Current Programs and Applications
Many organizations have existing programs and technology, such as their EHR system, that have the capacity to automate and improve current processes. However, I am always amazed to find that many functions aren’t being utilized efficiently or at all in various organizations. For example, something as simple as eligibility verification is a tool that can almost always be implemented into most EHRs, but is one in which I still see practices underutilizing. Looking at EHR systems, the following are some examples of processes that can be impacted:
- Managing messages
- Scheduling patients
- Checking patients in
- Rooming patients
- Conducting exams
- Renewing medications
- Checking patients out
The EHR is far from being the only application that has room for capability enhancements, but it’s often easiest to start with. Take a deep dive into the different applications that you are currently using, and lean on their help and support lines to identify opportunities.
Take the Patient Perspective
Administrators should put themselves in the shoes of the patient, by physically following and monitoring patients through the entire operational cycle, documenting notes and timeframes of each process in real time. This can and should be done at regular intervals as process improvement is ongoing. By starting now, leaders should get immediate insight into the entire patient process. With these insights, you should have identified what parts of the process can be streamlined or improved. I have seen many managers change their perspective as they realized that their assumptions on how operational flows occurred were not as expected and they were able to make minor adjustments that led to overall improvements.
Creating a culture of operational improvements and process enhancements is one that takes time and focus by healthcare leaders. However, by starting with the steps listed above, leadership can begin to greater understand operational processes and take concrete actions to improve them. For more resources, be sure to check out our other insights.
Authored by Brett Shay, Managing Partner at Informed Concepts Consulting. Published on October 20, 2019.