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Six Sigma in Healthcare: Concepts, Benefits and Examples

six sigma in healthcare

Six Sigma, a quality control methodology to eliminate errors and improve processes, is a game changer in the business world. Originally developed for the manufacturing industry, Six Sigma has since been applied to other sectors, including healthcare.

Six Sigma in healthcare is helping doctors and hospital management address potential problems and challenges in delivering care while improving patient outcomes, reducing medical errors, and increasing efficiency.

In this blog, we’ll provide an overview of the Six Sigma methodology and explain how it can be applied to healthcare. We’ll also explore real-world examples of Lean Six Sigma in healthcare and how it’s being used to improve processes in healthcare organizations.

What is Six Sigma in Healthcare?

As more and more hospitals and healthcare institutions emphasize the importance of quality of care and waste reduction in healthcare, Six Sigma methodology is becoming an increasingly popular concept in the field. The healthcare industry is employing Six Sigma to achieve better results.

The main focus in healthcare is on improving patient safety and satisfaction. Nowadays, patients choose healthcare services based on quality of care and level of satisfaction. This is where Six Sigma in Healthcare comes into play.

Six Sigma is a management tool, which when implemented in organizations, helps increase process capability and efficiency, by reducing the likelihood of error and waste.

Implementing Six Sigma in healthcare can help improve patient care, reduce waste, and eliminate defects like long waiting time to see a doctor, and incorrect diagnoses, treatment, prescriptions, etc. Overall, Six Sigma can streamline processes reduce costs.

Also Read: How to Become Lean Six Sigma Certified: A Complete Guide

What’s the Importance of Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare?

There is almost no room for error when it comes to healthcare. Simple mistakes can mean the difference between life and death. Lean Six Sigma can go a long way in reducing deaths due to medical errors.

More than 210,000 people in the U.S. die every year due to medical errors. And this raises an annual cost of $17.1 billion for the healthcare industry. Leveraging Lean Six Sigma principles can help address this problem.

Lean Six Sigma in healthcare combines the strategies of Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. Lean is popular for its waste-handling ability, while Six Sigma is known for process improvement. Thus, combining these two methodologies can help improve the efficiency and quality of healthcare by eliminating waste and reducing variability.

Integrating Lean with Six Sigma results in a method that reduces waste and boosts productivity, besides eliminating errors and improving patient satisfaction.

Implementation of Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare

Six Sigma in Healthcare helps not only to improve quality but also to solve healthcare problems. The healthcare sector, including hospitals, medical centers, care homes, doctors, etc., handle extensive patient data. Even a minor error or loss in this data can have huge impacts – endangering patients’ lives. Hence, it is vital to keep workflow and processes in healthcare flawless.

Besides, the variance in healthcare is greater than in other industries. The variables may be small and difficult to quantify. However, Six Sigma’s data-driven approach to quality improvement can rectify and considerably improve the systems and processes in healthcare.

Six Sigma helps hospitals and medical practices to deliver effective and efficient healthcare services, which can eventually lead to less morbidity and mortality. Implementing Six Sigma also ensures safer patient care, fast service delivery, and more coordination.

The DMAIC approach of Six Sigma—Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control—plays a major role in problem-solving and quality improvement of operations in the healthcare sector.

Define

The first step is identifying the patients and clearly defining their requirements. Also, the objectives of the process, its capacities, shortcomings, and scope for improvement are taken into consideration.

Measure

Metrics and statistics are used to recognize sufficient performance in terms of improvement. Improvement can be measured by considering the level of patient satisfaction, service level, service cost, clinical excellence rate, etc. The benchmark to be met must be established, and methods for measurement must be determined.

Analyze

Six Sigma tools are used to collect and analyze data for measuring to check for characteristics or loopholes that may cause a quality issue.

Improve

In this stage, modifications are implemented to improve the process. The performances of these improvements are effectively monitored to track progress.

Control

The performances are constantly monitored to maintain the levels of improvement.

The different tools and techniques of Six Sigma can help improve patient care to a reasonable level by reducing the number of errors made during multiple processes.

Also Read: What is Lean Methodology?

The Benefits of Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare

In this section, we’ll take a deep dive into how Six Sigma makes a difference in healthcare.

Avoiding Medical Mistakes

One of the primary objectives of Six Sigma is to reduce errors in a process. This is exceptionally relevant for the healthcare industry, where minor data errors can eventually lead to serious health consequences. Six Sigma ranks an operation based on its number of mistakes. A process can achieve the highest level if it makes no more than four errors in a million observations.

Lean Six Sigma considers empirical data and can measure multiple operational scenarios. Out of these, the best strategy is chosen, which aligns with the healthcare agents involved, including medical practitioners, infrastructure, and biological technology, and makes the least number of errors.

Improving Patient Care

Another important feature of Lean Six Sigma in healthcare is its focus on patient requirements. It adheres to customer perspective to improve patient care. Following the tenets of Six Sigma healthcare methodology, healthcare practitioners consider patient satisfaction their top priority. Due to this focus on patient care, some prominent features increasingly becoming part of the healthcare process include wheelchair accessibility, 24×7 emergency care facilities, easy access to appointments, clean surroundings, etc. thus, healthcare providers that implement Six Sigma in healthcare can constantly improve their patient care.

Make Healthcare Services More Accessible

Applying Six Sigma management in healthcare helps identify and reduce waste, such as the bulk purchase of unnecessary health inventory or over-employment of staff during non-peak hours. This cuts costs, making healthcare services leaner, more affordable, and more accessible.

Reduce the Length of Stay of Patients

As discussed above, a reduction in wastage can increase focus on patient needs and improve the quality of care offered. This helps reduce the length of stay for patients at hospitals or healthcare centers. With better care, a patient’s health improves within a shorter period of time, and they can leave the healthcare facility sooner. Thus, healthcare providers can achieve both business and social goals.

Six Sigma in Healthcare can help healthcare organizations in myriad ways – from moving patients more quickly from the emergency to a hospital room and bettering turnaround times for laboratory processes to maximizing resources, eliminating waste, and getting the desired results to reduce costs and increase patient satisfaction.

Six Sigma in Healthcare Examples

Though relatively new to the healthcare industry, the Six Sigma methodology can be implemented in several healthcare fields to achieve the best possible results.

Six Sigma in healthcare examples include optimizing resources for operating machines like MRI, time scheduling for testing equipment, etc. Six Sigma can also be used to discharge patients faster and set up high-priority patient services.

Six Sigma also finds applications to improve treatments, nursing, hospital support, laboratory, managerial and technical services.

We will now discuss some Lean Six Sigma in healthcare examples to reinforce this point.

Example 1: Savings of $15 Million (Stanford Hospital and Clinics)

By applying Six Sigma to its coronary artery bypass graft operations, Stanford Hospital and Clinics was reported to achieve a whopping $15 million in savings every year.

The costs were slashed by 40 percent, and mortality rates decreased from 7.1 percent to 3.7 percent. The average time spent in intensive care dropped by 8 hours, while the average incubation period was drastically lowered from 12-16 hours to 4-6 hours.

Furthermore, Stanford Hospital and Clinics implemented more Six Sigma in healthcare projects and other process improvements to control its purchasing process. With all these, they could save $25 million annually.

Example 2: Increased Capacity (Kent Private Hospital in Turkey)

A private hospital in the historic city of Izmir in Turkey had great demand for their services due to their advanced technological infrastructure. But the hospital could not treat more than 32 patients in a day.

They applied the Six Sigma methodology, which doubled their patient treating capacity to 64 patients a day. The best part was that the hospital’s capacity increased without hiring additional staff.

Additionally, Kent Private hospital reported reduced patient waiting time from 2.5 hours to 20 minutes. Treatment start time was reduced from 3-4 months to within a month. Thus, by doubling its patients, Kent hospital could increase its profits by 100 percent.

Example 3: Faster Life-saving Procedure (Non-profit Hospital)

A non-profit hospital struggled to meet the 90 minutes standard time set by the Centre for Medical Services (CMS) from door-to-balloon time in treating ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction.

A few years ago, when the new standards were set, the hospital could only achieve a door-to-balloon time of below 90 minutes in 47 percent of the cases in the 3rd and 4th quarters of that year. Then they implemented the Six Sigma DMAIC method (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control), FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis), and other ways to detect the problem. In doing so, the hospital could eliminate the waste identified and implement the required actions. Consequently, the hospital could achieve a door-to-balloon time below 90 minutes in 73 percent of myocardial infarction procedures.

Example 4: Decreased Obstetric Waiting Time (Private hospital in Kuwait)

A Kuwait-based private hospital used the Six Sigma methodology in its obstetrics and gynecology clinic to reduce patient waiting time.

As a result, the patients with appointments had their waiting times reduced by 63 percent on weekdays and 67 percent on Saturdays. In the case of walk-in patients, there was a reduction of 46 percent in waiting time on weekdays and 55 percent on Saturdays. Overall, the hospital improved patient satisfaction and profitability.

Example 5: Making Millions of Dollars in Profits (Charleston Area Medical Center)

The Charleston Area Medical Center employed Lean Six Sigma in healthcare in its surgical supply chain management. The hospital made savings worth $1 million. This is counted as one of the most profitable examples of Six Sigma in healthcare.

Also Read: Value Stream Mapping in Six Sigma

More Examples

In a similar case, Scottsdale Healthcare organization could improve its emergency room process by using Six Sigma. As a result, the organization reduced the time required to transfer a patient to an inpatient hospital bed. Its annual profits increased by $1.6 million.

According to a 2017 report, Mount Carmel Health System employed Six Sigma tools to fix operational defects and business management. This resulted in the health system saving $3.1 million, improving doctor and employee satisfaction, and boosting profits.

The Rapides Regional Medical Center in Louisiana applied the Six Sigma methodology to identify defects in its emergency care unit. Consequently, they could control defects and boost hospital savings by up to $950,000 annually. Besides, the reduced waiting time for the patients meant that more patients could be served.

The Women and Infants Hospital in Rhode Island employed Six Sigma healthcare and standardized its procedure for the transfer of embryos. As a result, their implementation rate improved by 35 percent.

The benefits of Lean Six Sigma in healthcare far outweigh the risks. Healthcare organizations increasingly rely on the Six Sigma tool to satisfy patients, reduce incorrect solutions, reduce costs incurred, and ensure accurate decision-making. Six Sigma further encourages teamwork within an organization and gives employees a sense of belonging, motivating them to achieve organizational goals.

By embracing Six Sigma methods, several healthcare organizations have increased patient satisfaction, referrals, and recommendations, and most importantly, have saved millions of dollars.

Advance Your Career with Lean Six Sigma

As more healthcare organizations use Six Sigma to improve the quality of care and safety, the demand for Six Sigma healthcare jobs is skyrocketing. Six Sigma professionals are highly sought-after, not only in healthcare but also in automotive, electronics, manufacturing, transportation, and nearly every other industry.

With the rise in Six Sigma adoption across sectors, upskilling yourself in Six Sigma skills is an excellent career choice. Not surprisingly, Lean Six Sigma certification is a powerful asset in the job market. Today, leadership roles in the largest and most respected hospitals and healthcare networks require this certification.

If you want to build your Six Sigma skills, getting a certification could be your best starting point. An accredited Six Sigma Certification can open up career opportunities worldwide for healthcare professionals. There are no specific qualifying requirements to enroll for Six Sigma certificates, but the certifications at various levels require some job experience and training.

Luckily, becoming a Six Sigma expert and earning a highly-regarded certification is easier than ever with self-paced courses such as the Lean Six Sigma course offered by Simplilearn in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts.

The six-month course includes key concepts like Agile Management, Digital Transformation, Lean Management, Minitab, and Quality Management, among others. Plus, it provides capstone projects where you’ll be handling real-world business problems. On course completion, you can lead improvement projects for a healthcare facility or ride on your experience and expertise to transform any organization.

Ready to become a Six Sigma expert? Enroll now!

You might also like to read:

A Guide to Six Sigma Projects

Why Choose Six Sigma Methodology for Project Management?

Quality Management Process: A Beginner’s Guide

Six Sigma Books Worth Reading

What is Lean Six Sigma Green Belt?

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