While some of the rising costs of healthcare are due to increases in the elderly population or using expensive new medical technologies, a significant portion of the expenses can be attributed to operational inefficiencies. Unnecessary steps in drug delivery, bloated administration, or complicated logistical systems are all ways in which healthcare operation can become less effective. The Six Sigma approach, an optimization technique commonly utilized in manufacturing settings, can be applied to the healthcare industry to improve productivity.

How Lean and Six Sigma Work

Lean thinking differentiates activities that add value to a service from those that do not, allowing the flow, speed, and factors of a process to be identified. Activities that do not add value, once recognized, can be removed or reduced from a process to increase its efficiency. Six Sigma modifies the structure of an organization, assigning leaders to manage projects. When analyzing a project, five phases are followed: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. Defining a project helps to determine whether the benefits it offers will be worth the cost of the undertaking. When a project is measured, data are collected to assess characteristics that are critical-to-quality (CTQ). Analyzing the data allows project managers to determine what factors influence the CTQs and improve a process.

Six Sigma and Healthcare

Six Sigma can address both medical and administrative inefficiencies. After the Red Cross Hospital in the Netherlands implemented the Six Sigma approach, they were able to adjust several policies, including reducing invoice errors, shortening the preparation time for standard medications, allowing parents to stay in rooms with their children, and improving the payment system. Those beginning greenbelt projects were trained for three days two months apart, working a day or two every week on their projects. They completed projects that demonstrated savings of a minimum threshold. Projects included reducing the starting times of operations, establishing operating procedures for the maintenance department, and improving hiring processes. As a result of the projects, the hospital saved over 200,000 Euros.

Implementing the Six Sigma approach to the healthcare industry can reduce cost, increase efficiency, and rapidly incorporate new advances. Training projects leaders in the hospital setting can equip healthcare centers with the tools necessary to implement significant improvements in protocol and replicate the successes achieved by the Red Cross Hospital.

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