Healthcare Process Improvement: Six Strategies for Organizationwide Transformation
Healthcare process improvement is one of the essential drivers of a transformation strategy that aims to improve the quality of care while lowering costs. Healthcare processes comprise hospital admissions and discharge and billing, emergency department (ED) operations, patient transfers to different facilities, medication administration, patient flow, and more. As such, healthcare processes impact operations, patient experience, and clinician job satisfaction across the health system. Furthermore, in the COVID-19 era, optimized processes are increasingly important in pandemic response and recovery and in continuing to deliver care to non-COVID-19 patients. With such a broad scope, ongoing data-driven healthcare process improvement is an essential goal for health systems committed to better care at lower costs.
Six Strategies for Healthcare Process Improvement that Drive Better Care at Lower Costs
Six strategies to drive better care at lower cost through healthcare process improvement demonstrate the impact of efficient, effective processes and the vital role of a data– and analytics-based methodology and culture committed to advancing care.
#1: Transform the Delivery of Care in the Emergency Department
Overcrowding in the emergency department (ED) has been associated with increases in inpatient mortality, length of stay, and costs for admitted patients. Emergency department wait times and patients leaving without seeing a qualified medical provider are indicators of overcrowding. A data-driven approach addresses common drivers of ED overcrowding and guides the redesign or emergency care delivery:
- A four-step approach to redesigning the delivery of emergency care.
- Understanding ED performance.
- Revising high-impact workflows.
- Revising staffing patterns.
- Setting leadership expectations.
- Improving the patient experience.
#2: Adopt Six Lean Methodologies for Healthcare Improvement
By adopting lean principles, healthcare organizations can reduce waste while improving the quality of care. This process improvement approach involves applying stringent clinical data measurement to routine care delivery, allowing health systems to identify best practice protocols and incorporate those into the clinical workflow. When teams use data from these best practices through a continuous-learning loop, they enable protocol updates and improvement throughout the organization—ultimately reducing waste, lowering costs, and improving access to care.
#3: Improve Hospital Patient Flow with Machine Learning
Health systems can leverage machine learning and predictive models to improve patient flow for different departments throughout the organization. Improving hospital patient flow results in reduced patient wait times, reduced staff overtime, improved patient outcomes, and improved patient and clinician satisfaction. By focusing on three critical areas, health systems can foster successful data science that will lead to improved hospital patient flow:
- Build a data science team.
- Create a machine learning pipeline to aggregate all data sources.
- Form a comprehensive leadership team to govern data.
#4: Prevent Medication Errors
With a potential industrywide savings of almost $21 billion and an impact on more than seven million patient lives, preventing harmful medication errors is a significant improvement opportunity for health systems. Approximately 50 percent of adverse drug events (ADEs) are preventable, making their reduction a highly impactable area of process improvement. Current data and analytics workflow tools are making ADE surveillance, monitoring, and prevention increasingly more effective.
#5: Reduce Unwanted Variation in Healthcare
In outcomes improvement in healthcare, variation threatens quality across processes and outcomes. Health systems can improve outcomes by recognizing where and how inconsistency impacts their outcomes and reduce unwanted variation. There are three critical steps to reducing unwanted variation:
- Remove obstacles to success on a communitywide level.
- Maintain open lines of communication and share lessons learned.
- Decrease the magnitude of variation.
#6: Prioritize Process Measures over Outcome Measures
The healthcare industry tends to prioritize outcome measures, but outcome measures alone won’t help organizations reach their goals of better quality and reduced costs. Instead, health systems must get more granular with their data by tracking process measures. Process measures make it possible to identify the root cause of a health system’s failures. They’re the checklists for systematically guaranteeing the organization will deliver the right care to every patient, every time.
Improved Processes Mean Improved Care
Process improvement is an ongoing priority for healthcare leadership as the driver of all health system activities and outcomes. While the industry continues to navigate the unknowns of COVID-19 response and recovery, advancing the processes organizations can control is paramount to meeting pandemic and non-pandemic healthcare needs. Insights on successful strategies, advanced analytics tools, and proven skillsets can guide process improvement leaders as they continually aim for better outcomes and patient experience and lower costs.
Health Catalyst is a leading provider of data and analytics technology and services to healthcare organizations, committed to being the catalyst for massive, measurable, data-informed healthcare improvement.
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