Content sponsored by IU Kelley School of Business Indianapolis

The importance of refining healthcare processes has never been more pronounced. In the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis, I learned process improvement—among other management skills—to help me make informed decisions that enhance patient care and organizational performance. Physicians trained in operations management and process improvement can play a pivotal role in leading the future of healthcare, ensuring it is both sustainable and patient-centric.

How is process improvement being used to enhance healthcare delivery to benefit patients?

Continuous process improvement is the primary tool for optimizing the care delivery model within complex ecosystems characterized by multiple interwoven elements. In such intricate systems, various defects can arise, making it imperative to engage all stakeholders involved in the care delivery process. This inclusive approach provides a structured framework for achieving improvements, fostering a transdisciplinary approach to identifying gaps, and devising effective solutions to propel progress.

In years past, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) adopted the Triple Aim framework, aiming to enhance healthcare system performance by prioritizing patient experience, improving population health, and reducing per capita healthcare costs. In recent years, an additional focus on staff safety and satisfaction has been integrated, potentially transforming this into a Quadruple Aim approach. This holistic strategy emphasizes systematic and sustainable process improvements to achieve these goals.

How does process improvement benefit providers?

A structured process improvement methodology offers a standardized framework that organizes discussions, gathers feedback from all stakeholders, defines metrics to measure improvement impact, and establishes a clear timeline. The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) model for improvement, championed by the IHI, exemplifies a successful approach to reducing errors and enhancing patient care. This methodology has spurred nationwide efforts to eradicate hospital-acquired harm, including mortality rates and central infections.

What role can physicians play in implementing process improvement?

This process improvement methodology is especially beneficial for physicians and advanced practice professionals (APPs) as it enhances conversation structure, fosters collaboration, and streamlines decision-making processes effectively. The Kelley Physician MBA Program provides a collective, immersive experience in operations, process improvement, and Lean Six Sigma to give physicians the tools to affect real change for their organizations through improved healthcare delivery.

What are the best practices and evidence-based approaches for improving healthcare processes?

Healthcare organizations experience the most robust process improvement when the entire organization adopts a unified methodology, enabling them to communicate effectively using a shared language. Whether it’s Six Sigma, Lean, Monthly Business Reviews, or PDSA cycles, it’s crucial for all team members to be familiar with the language and methodology supporting these improvement efforts.

What are the steps to initiate process improvement?

To initiate the process improvement endeavor, the first step is to identify the key stakeholders who should be invited to the initial conversation. Once the team is assembled, the next critical steps involve defining the problem and understanding how to measure the results of the improvement efforts.

What resources—financial, human, technological—are needed for process improvement?

In addition to ensuring stakeholders have allocated sufficient time to the process improvement initiative and possess the right mindset to drive progress, it’s crucial to support the process with easy-flowing data generation and access. A solid grasp of financials and access to financial data can significantly fuel process improvement efforts, particularly in healthcare settings. While many process improvements focus on healthcare outcomes, incorporating a financial lens can provide valuable insights to determine the appropriate next steps and optimize resource allocation effectively. In the Kelley Physician MBA Program, I learned how to use finances to inform operational decisions.

What training and education programs are needed to support staff in implementing process improvements?

Process improvement coaches play a vital role in setting up initial processes and providing long-term support. While highly reliable organizations empower every team to lead process improvements independently, the journey toward becoming a highly reliable organization necessitates the guidance and support of improvement experts to ensure adoption and standardization of processes.

How do you ensure ongoing learning and adaptation to changes?

Effective change management, implementation science, and sustainability are crucial components of successfully implementing process improvement efforts. Ensuring that every team member embraces defined standards and leads to intended results is essential for sustaining implementation. Often, a common analogy used in process improvement is drawn from Greek mythology, likening the endeavor to the plight of Sisyphus. Just as Sisyphus persistently pushed a boulder uphill only for it to roll back down, process improvement, especially in healthcare harm mitigation, can feel like an ongoing uphill battle with continuous effort required to achieve lasting results.