With the ongoing deployment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), healthcare providers are now, more than ever, feeling the pressure to ensure positive patient outcomes, improve the quality and effectiveness of operations, manage costs and increase satisfaction among patients, medical professionals and staff to ensure maximum reimbursement.

To address these needs, new technology can certainly play an important role, but there is also a large opportunity to deploy business process improvement (BPI) techniques to drive progress.

Through BPI, many healthcare providers have achieved 40%+ improvements in numerous areas including quality metrics, lead times, wait times, reduction of errors and improved productivity. These measures all have a direct impact on patient experience, quality outcomes and reimbursement. Key opportunity areas for process improvement may include:

  • Patient flow throughout all areas of the organization to improve throughput (e.g., Emergency, X-Ray, Lab, OR, etc.)
  • Scheduling (e.g., inpatient, outpatient, surgery, ancillary services and physician office )
  • Patient access and registration
  • Patient accounting (e.g., billing, collections, etc.)
  • Charting of clinical documentation – inpatient and outpatient
  • Materials management and supply chain

To effectively deploy BPI, key success factors include:

  • Patient Focus – Effective process and operational improvement put the Patient at the forefront. The goal is to improve patient experience, access to care, care coordination, patient outcomes and overall patient satisfaction. Every change considered should be evaluated using this lens.
  • Leadership – Top down executive sponsorship of BPI is critical. The CEO and leadership must be visible champions of the initiatives and show commitment to driving and supporting change. All stakeholder groups including physicians should be part of the change – and expectations need to be set accordingly. BPI is not a short-term initiative but an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement.
  • Engagement throughout Organization – Involvement of front-line care providers is important to harness the best ideas and gain buy-in for improvements. This includes physicians, nurses, aides, techs and other key personnel involved in care coordination. Involvement of middle management is also important as they can help support the change when involved or easily squash the change if they are not.
  • Change Culture – Instilling a culture that fosters an openness to change and process excellence, is critical in order to engage people across the organization and make them feel safe to develop and try out new ideas. One of the keys to doing this is to adopt a “no-layoff policy.” The goal of BPI is not to reduce headcount, but to help appropriately allocate resources to improve the patient experience and outcomes.
  • Innovation – Healthcare providers are challenged with a difficult business model that requires them to accomplish great results on extremely narrow margins. A number of technological advances that have already proven helpful in other industries offer opportunities to leap forward in terms of productivity, efficiency, and catalyzing collaboration. Digital media, including web portals and mobile apps supported by back-end integration and analytics, require minimal investment but can open up modes of communication and collaboration previously unimaginable. These technologies unlock troves of valuable data that can guide more proactive decision making, more precise targeting of process improvement efforts and finely tuned monitoring of the impacts and outcomes these efforts achieve. Extending the capabilities of these digital innovations are new sensors and devices that are cheaper, easier to maintain, more accurate and more sensitive than older technologies currently in place. Bluetooth beacons, for example, which are already disrupting the fields of customer engagement and data capture in the hospitality, travel, sports and entertainment industries, offer an opportunity to leapfrog older location sensing technologies to provide wayfinding for patients and staff and location monitoring for critical assets and personnel.
  • Continuous Improvement – Effective change is done incrementally and ongoing from week to week and not through large, one-time initiatives. Communication and expectation setting and management is a key factor in the success of these projects. Undertaking baseline measures to provide a mechanism for comparison is helpful to keep people on the path forward. Putting the right measures in place is a key enabler and critical to monitoring the effectiveness of changes made and guiding future efforts. It is also helpful to benchmark improvements against similar processes from other industries to avoid the “just as good” mentality within the healthcare industry.

In summary, there are significant opportunities to leverage BPI to improve operational effectiveness and satisfaction among patients, providers and staff. Researching supporting technologies successfully deployed by other industries can also provide valuable lessons learned and enable break-through improvements.   These improvements positively impact a provider’s bottom line and allow reinvestment in enhanced capabilities and services for its patient population.