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Case Study: Surmounting Staff Scheduling at Valley Baptist Health System

By Carolyn Pexton and Blake Hubbard

Case Study: Surmounting Staff Scheduling at Valley Baptist Health System

Located in Harlingen, Texas, Valley Baptist Health System is a full-service, not-for-profit community health network ably serving the population of south Texas and beyond. The system is comprised of multiple organizations including Valley Baptist Medical Center, a 611-bed acute care hospital providing the number one rated orthopedics service in Texas, a state of the art children’s center and a lead level III trauma facility. The organization also serves as a teaching facility for The University of Texas Health Science Center.

In 2002, Valley Baptist Health System began to implement GE’s Six Sigma approach as a rigorous methodology for process improvement and a philosophy for organizational transformation. The adoption of Six Sigma at Valley Baptist fostered a revitalized culture that embraces the voice of the customer, breaks down barriers to change and raises the bar on performance expectations. Through this initiative, the team at Valley Baptist began to examine the most critical opportunities for improvement and select projects that would align with strategic objectives and produce measurable results.

As with most healthcare providers today, maintaining appropriate staffing levels and improving productivity are among the top concerns at Valley Baptist. During the initial wave of Six Sigma training projects, the team at Valley Baptist launched an effort to review and improve the staff scheduling process for one nursing unit in orthopedics. Within this particular unit, there had been a history of overtime and use of agency hours that did not seem to correlate with changes in patient volume. Patient census would fluctuate while staffing levels remained the same, and the higher hourly wage for overtime and agencies had begun to strain the overall labor budget.

The primary focus for this project was to improve the unit’s ability to responsibly meet staffing targets while protecting the quality of patient care. It is a challenge to reach that optimal level – avoiding overstaffing yet appropriately meeting daily needs. Paramount in this effort was the notion that targets would be met without adversely impacting customers. Patient satisfaction scores had to remain constant or increase, and this mandate was built into the project and measured through the use of upper and lower specification limits.

A cross functional project team was assembled including the chief nursing officer as sponsor, the assistant vice president from human resources, the nursing house supervisor, the nurse manager from the cardiac care unit, a representative from IT and a charge nurse. The introduction of any new change initiative can elicit skepticism, but since Six Sigma concentrates on fixing the process rather than assigning blame, once the approach was understood much of the skepticism subsided. Stakeholder analysis and other CAP (change acceleration process) tools helped to surface concerns and improve communication.

Also supporting this project were metrics to measure productivity for nurses and managers that had been introduced through the adoption of Six Sigma. The dual emphasis on productivity and quality provides a framework for offering cost effective care and aligns with the customer-centered mission at Valley Baptist.

Defining the Goal

During the Define phase of the project, the team concentrated on clearly identifying the problem and establishing goals. The nursing units in general had struggled to meet their staffing targets and were over budget on labor costs. For this project, the team decided to focus on one orthopedics nursing unit based on three criteria: the unit was not extremely specialized or unique so it offered the best representation of nursing as a whole; the manager was very supportive of the initiative; and this unit offered clear opportunity for improvement and results.

To understand the current scheduling process, the project team used the SIPOC tool to develop a high-level process map. SIPOC stands for suppliers, inputs, process, output and customers. Inputs are obtained from suppliers, value is added through your process, and an output is provided that meets or exceeds your customer’s requirements. SIPOC is extremely useful during process mapping.

Measuring and Analyzing the Issues

As they moved through the Measure and Analyze phases, the project team focused on data collection and the identification of the critical “Xs” that were impacting staff scheduling. Historical data was gathered from the payroll system to analyze regular time, overtime, agency use, sick time, vacation, jury, funeral leave and FMLA. They examined 24 pay periods for each data point. Fortunately, the team was able to extract the data they needed from existing systems and avoid manual data collection, which is more labor intensive and can increase the project timeline.

Given the availability of continuous data for the “Y” or effect and the potential Xs or causes, regression analysis was the tool chosen to help the team understand the relationship between variation from the staffing goals and vacation, FMLA, sick leave, overtime, agency nurse usage, and so on. Through regression analysis, they were able to determine that three critical Xs could explain 95 percent of the variation: agency use, overtime and census. The next step would be to understand underlying factors – data would point the team to interesting findings that disputed their original theories.

The Improve Phase

During the Improve phase, the team used many of the CAP and Work-out tools. Such acceptance-building techniques are key to success, since improvements introduce changes in process and human behavior. The team conducted a Work-out session to develop new standard operating procedures for better management of overtime and agency usage – critical drivers in staffing.

The chief nursing officer attended the sessions to underscore the importance of this initiative from a leadership perspective. The project team used the process map to indicate where they might have opportunities for improvement, and then conducted separate Work-outs on each area. They brought in nursing staff, house supervisors and other stakeholders to participate in the search for solutions.

This project translates to $460,000 in potential savings for one unit. Conservatively, if it were spread across the health system the savings could exceed $5 million.

Never Assume

This project furnished a classic example as to how Six Sigma can be used to either corroborate or dispel original theories. Management at Valley Baptist had initially assumed they were over budget on labor costs due to sick leave, FMLA, vacation and people not showing up, which would have naturally necessitated the additional overtime and agency hours. The data and analysis proved those assumptions to be incorrect.

It turns out there were several factors contributing to the staff scheduling challenges. One illuminating aspect to come from the Work-outs was the realization that nurses didn’t like floating in and out of units – this came up in every session. There were also issues with the staffing matrix which attempted to set parameters based on volume. Compliance was not ideal, and the matrix itself was based on data that was not completely current. Another complication was that maintaining information in the matrix involved labor intensive, manual processes that were difficult to control.

The team discovered the use of overtime was not always need-based. Units would regularly schedule 48 hours for each nurse, with the extra eight hours of overtime built-in as “traditional” usage. This became an accepted practice and although in theory, adjustments are supposed to be made when the patient flow is lighter, this was not happening. On the form used to submit data the nurses would have to guess what hours they might actually work. The matrix might indicate compliance, but the payroll data actually showed them clocked in for 14-15 hours instead of 12.

Another critical issue is that the nursing unit lacked appropriate mechanisms for shift coordination and handoff. There were two fully independent teams between the day and night shifts, and there was not a smooth transition between them. Part of the problem stemmed from a lack of written guidelines governing the overtime between shifts. Nurses would finish their regular 12-hour shift and stay on overtime to complete tasks rather than pass them on to the next shift.

The central metric of this Six Sigma initiative was worked hours divided by equivalent patient days. Valley Baptist Health System defines worked hours as those hours during which an employee was actually working – including regular time and overtime, and excluding non-productive hours such as sick and vacation time. Equivalent patient days is the volume statistic utilized within the Orthopedics Unit. It is the typical patient days number adjusted to reflect short-term observation (STO) patient volume.

Results and the Control Phase

The development of new standard operating procedures has clearly had a positive impact on the organization. This gave staff a plan they can follow and established accountability. The unit began a process for transition meetings between shifts. The outgoing nurse now takes the incoming nurse to the patient’s room, introduces them and provides a report on the current status and whether there are outstanding orders. In addition to improving operations for the hospital, this change has also been well received by patients, as reflected in rising satisfaction scores during the pilot.

The project on staff scheduling has led to an overall reduction in the higher hourly cost of overtime and agency use, and has translated to $460 thousand in potential savings for this one unit. Conservatively, if this project were spread across the health system the savings could exceed $5 million. It is also important to note that this project started at the 0 sigma level and increased to Six Sigma for nine consecutive pay periods.

“At Valley Baptist, we continually seek opportunities to improve productivity,” said Jim Springfield, President and CEO. “This focus is critical for our future success and ability to meet patient needs.”

To ensure results are maintained, managers use control charts and trend reports with data from HR, time and attendance and payroll systems. This provides real time information on productivity, tracking worked hours versus patient days to show alignment with targets on an ongoing basis.

Organizational and Customer Impact

The bottom line is that nurses, management and patients are all happier as a result of this project. With the pilot in the Control phase, Valley Baptist has held Work-outs to determine how they might broaden the SOPs and implement this approach across the system in all nursing units.

“Staff has become much more flexible. We initially encountered some resistance, but using the CAP tools and working through the process helped to create a shared need and vision.”

Leadership involvement and support turned out to be a significant factor in the overall success of the project. This initiative represented a major culture change from previous CQI and TQM approaches to quality improvement. All previous efforts had involved hard work and good intentions, but prior to Six Sigma, they lacked the framework and rigor to institute statistically valid long-term results.

The health system is moving toward autonomy through additional Green Belt and Black Belt training with projects, and through participation in a Master Black Belt course at GE’s Healthcare Institute in Waukesha, Wisconsin. This experience provides instruction and interaction that prepares the MBB to come back and teach within the organization.

“Coming from the HR side, it’s important for organizations to know it’s possible to change the way you’ve always done things, and that employees will adapt to a new approach. If you can overcome the stress surrounding change you can realize increased efficiency. This is a positive way to control staffing without employing slash and burn techniques.”

Irma Pye, senior vice president at Valley Baptist, attended a conference in Utah with other healthcare executives. When the issue of performance improvement and staffing came up, someone mentioned they’d attempted to do a project on this and it had failed because they couldn’t afford to alienate and potentially lose good employees. Irma spoke up and let them know that based on her own recent experience, you can indeed address this issue and it can work if it is approached in the right way using the right techniques.

“Usually, when you ask the department manager to trim labor costs they think it can’t be done because it will antagonize employees . . . they’ll either take a job somewhere else, or stay there with negative feelings which impacts morale. This approach was able to affect change, while avoiding issues of layoffs or pay cuts.”

Fewer X-Ray Errors Reduce Cancer Risk, Wait Time and Costs Evan McLaughlin 27

Evan McLaughlin 27 November, 2019

Clinicians examining a radiograph

In hospital and clinic settings, making the right decisions doesn’t just reduce costs from duplicative work and process inefficiencies — it results in better outcomes for patients. Think about needing to take an extra X-ray because the first captured the wrong foot. Even if it’s the right limb, what if they captured it from the wrong angle?

Over the 14 years he worked in healthcare quality improvement, Art Wheeler saw this and many other process improvement scenarios. Most recently, as decision support manager for quality improvement services at one of the country’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric healthcare networks, he was the primary statistician, as well as a mentor and coach for Six Sigma Black Belts and Green Belts, program managers and project leaders for 8 1/2 years.

An expert in statistical quality control, one of his key responsibilities was ensuring data was collected in a way that was sound and ensured the best chances for detecting statistical significance of any reported improvements. He also developed the charts and writeups for the analysis sections of corresponding published articles and responded to reviewer questions or comments to help ensure acceptance.

Remember that extra X-ray scenario we mentioned earlier? Art served as a consultant on a duplicate X-ray study, which found each unnecessary scan cost facilities an extra $150 to $300 and overall patients were waiting longer. One study of 18 US pediatric emergency departments showed radiology errors are the third most common event in pediatric emergency research networks and human errors rather than equipment issues caused 87% of them.

Besides reducing errors, the team were also motivated to achieve their goal of zero errors at two clinics so they could also reduce lifetime radiation exposure for individuals, which in turn diminishes their risk of developing cancer. Efforts like this were part of the hospital’s “Zero Hero” program – they would measure the time period and the number of cases involved, aim to reduce incidents to zero and record how long they maintained zero incidents.

It wasn’t all black and white though. They needed to understand the context behind the duplicate X-rays to truly make improvements. With a retrospective review of a 14-month period at two facilities, they knew there were good and bad reasons behind the 170+ duplicate X-rays that were recorded, for a duplicate radiograph. Each duplicate radiograph was classified as …

  1. No error, where they intentionally studied from multiple views;
  2. Incorrect location, when the patient’s initial complaint did not match the initial radiograph (e.g. the aforementioned wrong foot);
  3. Incorrect laterality, when it’s the wrong side; or
  4. Unnecessary radiograph, a known issue when a clinical athletic trainer preordered multiple radiographs without physician evaluation and assessment.

The Pareto chart below shows the most common error during the 14-month period was incorrect location.

pareto-chart-radiograph-error-classification-resize

The quality improvement team took steps to meet their zero percent goal in both clinics, which included issuing surveys to patients and families during registration to help document where they needed to be X-rayed and if they had been X-rayed in the past.

The unnecessary radiograph was also a known issue when a clinical athletic trainer preordered multiple radiographs without physician evaluation and assessment. An intervention was made to fix this, making physicians responsible for putting their own radiograph orders in the Electronic Medical Record.

Overall these steps improved communication between physicians, clinical athletic trainers, radiology technologists, patients and families, and greatly contributed to better outcomes for everyone involved.

Lean Healthcare Project Teams

Six Modest Proposals for Health Care Measurement

 

1. The Streetlight Effect and Measuring What Matters

It was dark and a man lost his keys. He searches for them under a streetlight, and a friend comes over to help. Eventually, the friend asks, “Are you sure you lost your keys here?” The man says, “No. I lost them in the park.” So the friend asks, “Why are we looking here?” The man answers, “Because this is where the light is.”

This story describes a form of observational bias called the streetlight effect, in which we look for things where it’s easy, not where it’s important.

“I would argue that we do this all the time in health care measurement,” says Ari Robicsek, Chief Medical Analytics Officer for Providence St. Joseph Health.

Every hospital measures length of stay, for example, and many use this measure as a surrogate catch-all for quality and efficiency. “But let me ask, who really cares about length of stay?” says Robicsek. “Is it patients? Is that the first metric that comes to mind when a patient is thinking about hospital quality? Is it doctors? Probably not. Is it administrators? Even from an administrative point of view, you’re not going to realize the financial benefit of reduced length of stay, unless at the same time you reduce labor, or you find ways to fill those empty beds with paying customers, which is a much more complex measure than simply looking at length of stay.”

Length of stay may not be a great measure, but if we have to start somewhere with health care measurement, what’s the harm in tracking it? “If we assign resources to working on the wrong problem, those resources aren’t working on the right problem,” warns Robicsek.

Additionally, with length of stay specifically, a big push to get patients out the door risks sending them home before they’re ready — and when that happens, those patients may end up with complications and get readmitted. “We see one streetlight metric, length of stay, giving birth to another streetlight metric, 30-day readmissions, and so on,” he says.

“My modest proposal: We should measure the things that matter,” says Robicsek. “Yes, sometimes that’s going to mean that we need to collect data differently than the way we do today, or, said another way, sometimes we’re going to have to put up some lights in the park.”

2. Balancing Risk Adjustment

Map Showing Distribution of Glycemic Control in Diabetic Patients on Chicago North Shore

Map showing distribution of glycemic control in diabetic patients on Chicago’s North Shore. Click To Enlarge.

Robicsek shares a map showing distribution of glycemic control in diabetic patients on Chicago’s North Shore, where green is good and red is bad. The map overlays closely with an income map.

If we set up a bonus program for primary care doctors where they receive more money if their patients have better glycemic control, it’s easy to guess where most physicians will want to practice. This is why we need risk adjustment.

“Absent good risk adjustment, physicians working in disadvantage geographies are going to have the worst-looking outcomes,” Robicsek explains. “They’re going to get paid less. The poor get poorer, etc. Absent good risk adjustment, physicians are going to have an incentive to cherry-pick, that is, focus on the patients who are going to make them look good.”

“But with good risk adjustment, we have the opportunity to identify those providers who are outperforming expectations, who are doing a great job with the difficult-to-manage patients, and we can learn from them.”

There are disadvantages to risk adjustment, however, when done poorly. The most common problem is doing little more than creating the illusion that risk adjustment has occurred. “A lot of the risk adjustment models in use are lousy, including some of the ones used by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services),” Robicsek says. “I would argue that those do very little other than creating the patina of fairness, and I would argue when that happens, we’ve probably done more harm than good with risk adjustment.”

Another concern is that sometimes risk adjustment can justify outcome disparities that are amenable to management. A blood-pressure management metric risk-adjusted on race, for example, could remove the incentive for physicians to determine how to manage blood pressure in African-American patients, perversely promoting or entrenching existing inequalities.

“My proposal here: For every new measure that we build, we need to have a conversation about what amount of risk adjustment is enough,” says Robicsek.

3. Measuring to Learn

How much is enough? When we can learn from the measure, he explains. “So much of the health care measurement that we do is for the purpose of rank-ordering or some form of reward or punishment. I would argue that most of the measurement that we do should be taking into account the fact that, as humans, we’re curious and we’re altruistic — most of it should be to learn.”

Providence St. Joseph Health Total Knee Replacement Direct Variable Cost per Case - Ratio of Cost Doctor to System

Providence St. Joseph Health total knee replacement direct variable cost per case and ratio of cost, doctor to system. Click To Enlarge.

In a graph of total knee replacement at Providence St. Joseph Health, each circle represents one high-volume orthopedic surgeon. Each of these surgeons performs high volumes of elective primary unilateral total knee replacement, and they all have great outcomes. But the difference between them is cost.

Every circle above the line represents a surgeon whose cost per case is high. Every circle below represents a surgeon who cost per case is low relative to their colleagues.

Are the doctors low on implant costs consistently low across other elements of care? Not necessarily. “In medicine, variation is the state of nature,” says Robicsek. “There are almost no clinicians who are consistently high cost, or consistently low cost across these elements of care. My takeaway from this is that we all have an opportunity to learn from each other.”

“My modest proposal: Most of the health care measurement that we do should not be for reward or punishment. It should be to learn.”

4. Whose Patient Is It?

Providence recently evaluated OPPE (Ongoing Professional Practice Evaluation), which the health system uses, and found that it was assigning 40% of hospital patients to the wrong doctor. “Who can blame them?” Robicsek asks. “It’s easy in a hospitalization for a patient to have three different, or five different, attendings of record. How do you know who to assign that patient to?”

“In a world where we’re measuring for reward and punishment, we feel obligated to assign one outcome or one hospitalization to a single clinician, but imagine if we were able to move away from that and we were measuring to learn,” he says. “Then we would have the ability to do things like ignore who the provider was and ask ourselves what specific elements of care, what specific combinations of behaviors, lead to the best outcomes.”

“Or we could recognize that medicine is a team sport,” he adds. “Let’s ask the question, can we tie outcomes to teams rather than to individuals? My modest proposal here: We practice in teams. Let’s recognize that in the way we measure.”

5. Metrics Aren’t Free

“To anyone who has ever said, ‘Let’s just add one more thing to this dashboard’: Metrics are not free.”

“Every time we build the metric, if it is done correctly, somebody needs to build business specs, technical specs. Someone needs to do data governance, coding. Somebody needs to do validation, automation, documentation, visualization, and then somebody needs to maintain the thing moving forward. Easily that’s a cost of $10,000,” says Robicsek.

6. The “Give a Darn” Test for Health Care Measurement

When measuring what matters, how do we know what that is? Robicsek describes a thought experiment where he sits with a small group of physicians considering a metric. “Imagine I told you that you’re doing better than your colleague on this measure,” he says to them. “Would you feel good about yourself? Imagine I told you you’re doing worse than your colleagues on this measure. Would you feel motivated to change your practice?”

“If the answer to both of those questions is not yes, let’s not build this measure. It’s not worth our time. We’ll go focus on something else.”

Providence St. Joseph Health Give a Darn Test for Health Care Measurement - Reviewing One Measure in a Small Group

  Click To Enlarge.

“Sitting at the front of this room is my partner in crime, Dr. Caleb Stowell, looking like the cat who ate the canary. He’s showing [the surgeons] the results of the process that I’ve described. They’re measuring to learn. He’s identified a measure that passes the ‘give a darn’ test for them, and some of those surgeons are literally leaning in. I work for 51-hospital system, but where this change happens, where you win hearts and minds, is in rooms like this.”

Robicsek’s final proposal: Try the “give a darn” test for health care measurement. And note that in many “give-a-darn” conversations, one metric that comes up as incredibly important to physicians is patient-reported outcomes.

From the NEJM Catalyst event Provider-Driven Data Analytics to Improve Outcomes, held at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, January 31, 2019.

 

The Performance Management Group (TPMG) announces its 3rd Quarter Lean Six Sigma Excellence in Healthcare Delivery Certification Graduates.

8/30/2018 – Phoenix, Arizona  USA

The Performance Management Group (TPMG) announces its 3rd Quarter Lean Six Sigma Excellence in Healthcare Delivery Certification Graduates.

TPMG Education Services would like to congratulate its 3rd Quarter 2018 Lean Six Sigma Certification Graduates.

This accomplishment acknowledges they have fulfilled the requirements for the program of study and, from this day forward, they are certified as Lean Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts.  This designation is conferred upon them as of Friday August 24, 2018.  They are now authorized to place their respective “LSSBB” or “LSSGB” designation, which acknowledges this credential, following their name.

Congratulations Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification Graduates:

  1. Joyce Taylor, Director – Telligen
  2. Janice L. Stanton ,  Manager of Pre-Design Services – Gresham, Smith and Partners
  3. Ann Hastings, Business Intelligence Data Analyst – St. Luke’s Health System
  4. Ismael Groves – Director of Program Operations, Consumerism – Banner Healthcare

Congratulations Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification Graduates:

  1. Landin Shan, Project Manager of Shanghai Market – Shanghai United Healthcare
  2. Solomon Fatima, A/R Management Supervisor – Shanghai United Healthcare
  3. May XU, Outpatient Cashier Supervisor – Shanghai United Healthcare
  4. Clement Qi, IT Manager of Shanghai Market – Shanghai United Healthcare
  5. Susan Fang, Clinical Manager – Shanghai United Healthcare
  6. Sabeen Irfan, Clinical Operations Manager – Shanghai United Healthcare
  7. Zhang Ying, Lab Associate Manager – Shanghai United Healthcare
  8. XiaoMeng Sun, Medical Staff Office Supervisor – Shanghai United Healthcare

For more information regarding lean six sigma training, certification and consulting – contact TPMG llc at 623.643.9837 or logon to http://www.helpingmakeithappen.com.

How Hospitals Can Raise Patient Satisfaction, CAHPS Scores

Sara Heath

Editor
sheath@xtelligentmedia.com

Improving patient satisfaction scores, such as CAHPS, is key for driving practice reputation and reimbursements.

Healthcare organizations with high patient satisfaction and CAHPS scores see a multitude of benefits. High patient satisfaction scores usually result in higher reimbursement payments from CMS, better patient retention rates, and the assurance for hospital staff that they fostered a positive experience for patients.

A May 2016 report from Vocera showed that patient satisfaction is the top-ranked priority at healthcare organizations. Due to the importance of ensuring favorable feedback from patients, the demand for patient experience officers and patient advocate executives is increasing, with these professionals pulling equal rank with other C-suite executives, the report said.

The primary measure for patient satisfaction is the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS). The CAHPS survey is developed and funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in partnership with CMS, and forms a component of some value-based reimbursement programs.

CMS also uses CAHPS scores to inform its star ratings, which are publicly available ratings about the quality of healthcare facilities.

Several types of CAHPS surveys are utilized throughout the care continuum, ranging from hospitals to nursing homes to health plans. However, the Hospital CAHPS (HCAHPS) and Clinician and Group CAHPS (CGCAHPS) are the most prominent and commonly used surveys.

Both surveys measure many of the same factors, including nurse care, doctor care, and facility environment.

The HCAHPS survey also includes questions about experiences within the hospital, including pain management, and continuity of care experiences.

CGCAHPS surveys target their questions to the general practitioner, asking questions about ease of healthcare access and how often the patient has been visiting the office.

Because HCAHPS and CGCAHPS are used for both reimbursement and patient rating purposes, it is important for healthcare organizations to improve their scores. Healthcare organizations can improve their CAHPS scores by understanding what is important to patients, what the surveys measure, and how to meet patient needs.

Improving Patient-Provider Communication

Provider Picture

The first two sets of HCAHPS questions pertain to nurse and physician communications with patients. These questions ask whether nurses and physicians communicated clearly with patients, and whether patients understood their diagnoses, prognoses, and treatment options.

Clear communication about healthcare information is integral to a positive healthcare experience, experts say. Hospitalization is often a stressful and worrying time for patients, and made even worse when clinicians do not adequately communicate what is going on and how they will treat a patient’s ailments.

In addition to allaying patient worry, providing meaningful explanations of conditions and treatments will help the patient taken ownership of her own health.

“Patients have a need for information,” explained Deirdre Mylod, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation and Senior Vice President of Research and Analytics at Press Ganey.

“It’s not just making consumers happy to meet that need, but it’s also providing the right care. When you give people the right information, they can engage in care, they can be active participants, they’re better prepared to care for themselves at home, they’re less likely to be readmitted.”

Clear communication will require collaboration between the different members of the care team, added Mylod.

“As a patient, when one team member tells me one thing and somebody else tells me another, now I’m afraid and I’m thinking you’re not working together. Now I’m more scared than I need to be in a hospital,” she pointed out.

HCAHPS also asks patients whether nurses and physicians treated them with respect and empathy. Clinicians must tap into their interpersonal skills to provide compassionate care to their patients, while being mindful of cultural norms and barriers.

The healthcare industry might be falling short in this respect. A January 2017 survey conducted by Oliver Wyman and the Altarum Institute found that 40 percent of low-income patients have walked away from appointments feeling disrespected.

The survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, showed that in addition to reducing patient satisfaction, lacking compassion also lowered quality of care. Patients who felt disrespected were three times less likely to trust their clinicians, and two times less likely to adhere to treatments.

Healthcare organizations should support their clinicians in pursuit of being more empathic. Organizations can host cultural sensitivity seminars, work with patients to continue to develop their interpersonal skills, and educate clinicians on evidence-based best practices for enhancing patient-provider communication.

Improving the Physical Hospital Environment

Hospital Setting

Two HCAHPS questions pertain to the hospital environment: hospital cleanliness and hospital noise levels.

In order to maintain an appropriately clean and sanitary facility, organizations must support their custodial staff and reinforce the importance of a healthcare facility being clean.

The American Hospital Association has long advocated for improving the hospital setting for patient satisfaction. In a 2016 guide, AHA listed the ways in which organizations can create environments more suitable for patient rest and recovery.

To create a quiet and peaceful environment, AHA says hospitals should implement and enforce rules about quiet hours and lights-out times.

“It makes sense that patients rate hospitals poorly when they cannot get good sleep or rest and have the additional stress of noise added to the already stressful situation of being unwell,” AHA wrote. “Data shows that noise in hospitals is the factor that scores lowest on HCAHPS scores nationwide.”

Healthcare organizations can take it a step further than HCAHPS mandates. Many hospitals are turning to their patients to inform room design that will facilitate a more comfortable experience.

When designing its new facilities in Delaware and Orlando, leaders at Nemours Children’s Health consulted with its patient and family advisory board to decide which features would best suit pediatric patient rooms.

“The parents came in and tested all of the furniture that they might be sleeping on in the rooms. They provided input into what we actually purchased,” recalled Nemours Chief Information Officer Bernie Rice.

“The children came in as well and helped pick colors and room layouts as far as if the counter was too high,” he continued. “They were very valuable and heavily influenced our construction and design to make sure it was a very family- and patient-friendly environment.”

Being Attentive and Reducing Unnecessary Discomfort

Improving Patient Discomfort

One highly-debated part of patient experience surveys is pain management. Amidst a raging opioid abuse epidemic, many experts question whether pain management should be a part of patient satisfaction scores that result in provider reimbursements. By tying payments to pain management, some clinicians may feel compelled to prescribe opioids when there could be other potentially less-risky forms of pain management.

In November 2016, CMS removed the pain management questions from the HCAHPS survey. However, the agency maintained that pain management is an important part of patient care and experience.

“CMS continues to believe that pain control is an appropriate part of routine patient care that hospitals should manage, and is an important concern for patients, their families, and their caregivers,” CMS said in a public statement. “CMS is continuing the development and field testing of alternative questions related to provider communications and pain, and will solicit comment on these alternatives in future rulemaking.”

While the pain management portions of the HCAHPS survey are currently under construction, clinicians should still work to reduce unnecessary patient discomfort.

Press Ganey is adopting this approach when consulting on patient experience, Mylod said.

“The way that we approach improvement for patient experience measures is to reframe it,” she explained. “The exercise is not to make consumers happy. The exercise is to reduce patient suffering.”

To boost scores in this realm, Mylod suggests clinicians – especially nurses – become even more attentive. This means not only answering call buttons, but also making regular rounds to hospital beds to ensure they meet all patient needs.

During these rounds, nurses can ask if the patient needs assistance using the restroom or if they need an object, such as a television remote, handed to them. Paying attention to these seemingly inconsequential needs could reduce adverse safety events, Mylod explained. If a patient gets up to retrieve a book, for example, he could fall and hurt himself, affecting the patient experience, increasing length of stay, or requiring additional expenses related to an injury.

Streamlining discharge processStreamlining the Discharge and Follow-up Process

HCAHPS asks patients about how doctors and nurses managed continuous care and the discharge process. The survey asks whether clinicians checked in on post-discharge care plans, made it clear which provider will follow-up with ongoing needs, and whether that care will be adequate for the patient’s condition.

At patient advocacy group Planetree, leaders have developed a hospital discharge plan to ensure clinicians meet patient needs.

The plan includes identifying a family care partner that will help take care of the patient following hospital discharge, said Planetree’s Director of Research Jill Harrison, PhD.

From there, clinicians check in with the patient and appointed caregiver to determine which functions they will need to learn for optimal at-home care.

“Planetree has a program that allows people to say that they want help with wound changes, or help ambulate their loved one, or help check a tracheotomy if the patient has one,” Harrison said. “Caregivers go through a training program with the nursing staff and learn how to provide that care so that when patients get out of the hospital setting their family members are ready to take that all on.”

Other key healthcare players are advocating for a similar strategy. AARP has been sponsoring a law in state legislatures across the country to support family caregiver engagement. The organization says caregiver engagement will help support continuity of care.

Research confirms that family caregiver engagement can reduce hospital readmissions by up to 25 percent.

Hospitals that implement family caregiver engagement and discharge plans may see not only increases in HCAHPS scores, but in quality of healthcare, as well.

The importance of improving patient satisfaction and CAHPS scores is well-founded. These scores help inform CMS value-based reimbursements and hospital ratings published on the CMS website. Many healthcare organizations also use these scores to inform their own internal practice improvement processes.

However, when it comes to improving patient satisfaction, it is also important for practice leaders to look beyond the survey. Improving patient satisfaction means understanding the facility’s unique patient population and its needs. What will please one group of patients may not satisfy another, and hospital leaders must bear that in mind.

While supporting initiatives specifically geared toward improving CAHPS scores, healthcare organizations should also consider projects that will serve their unique population.

Issuing practice-specific patient input surveys or consulting with a patient advisory council will help healthcare organizations move beyond surface-level satisfaction and find solutions that will be truly meaningful for patients.

Patient Safety: Akron Children’s Hospital Uses Lean Six Sigma and Minitab in the NICU

Serious about Patient Safety: Akron Children’s Hospital Uses Lean Six Sigma and Minitab in the NICU

 Akron Children’s Hospital is serious about enhancing the patient experience, along with delivering quality healthcare in a timely, efficient manner. While the hospital formally established the Mark A. Watson Center for Operations Excellence in 2008, it has been performing quality improvement since its early beginnings 125 years ago. It’s no wonder the healthcare provider has consistently earned Best Children’s Hospitals rankings in 7 of the 10 specialties evaluated annually by U.S. News & World Report—including cancer, diabetes and endocrinology, pulmonology, neonatology, neurology and neurosurgery, and orthopedics.

The hospital encourages employees across all skill levels and departments to become involved in quality improvement, offering several levels of Lean Six Sigma training. As part of its green belt training and certification, employees learn to use Lean Six Sigma by leading and completing long-term projects with the guidance of experienced black belts.

One such green belt project, which began at the hospital’s Mahoning Valley, Ohio campus, had a goal to decrease one particular safety event—unplanned extubations in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). To complete this project, the hospital improvement team relied on Lean Six Sigma tactics and the data analysis tools in Minitab Statistical Software.

The Challenge

Akron Children’s Hospital relies on Minitab Statistical Software to analyze their Lean Six Sigma project data. The hospital used Minitab to verify improvements made to the intubation process in the NICU.

An intubation is a medical procedure in which a breathing tube is placed into a patient’s trachea. This tube connects the patient to a machine called a ventilator, which helps the patient breathe. The procedure is common for both pediatric patients and adults in intensive care, but is most common for premature newborn babies residing in a hospital’s NICU. Babies born prematurely often have undeveloped lungs, which cause breathing problems and the need for the assistance of a ventilator.

Although this medical procedure is commonly performed, it is not without risk, and can cause trauma to or introduce an infection into the patient’s airway. Unplanned removal of the breathing tube, which is also known as an unplanned extubation, is a likely occurrence that can cause harm. Unplanned extubations are the fourth most common adverse event in NICUs across the U.S.

Akron Children’s Hospital’s Department of Respiratory Care had been collecting data on the rate of unplanned extubations in the Mahoning Valley NICU for well over a year, but had not had the capacity to investigate the occurrences further. Bonnie Powell, a Registered Respiratory Therapist and manager of respiratory services at Akron Children’s Hospital, was a green belt candidate during the time unplanned extubation data were collected. As part of her Lean Six Sigma training and certification, she set out to lead a project that would decrease the rate of unplanned extubations in the Mahoning Valley NICU.

“I knew this project was the perfect fit for me because as a respiratory therapist, I’ve been part of the frontline staff primarily responsible for intubating,” Powell says. “When you’re the one actually putting the tube into the patient, it just affects you more because you know the trauma that you could be causing to them.”

How Minitab Helped

While there’s not a true benchmark rate that NICUs should strive to stay below regarding unplanned extubations, the Vermont Oxford Network—a research collaboration of nearly 1,000 global NICUs including Akron Children’s—considers 2 in 100 intubated patient days to be the upper limit of acceptable. Previous data collected on the rate of unplanned extubations at the Mahoning Valley NICU revealed a rate of 3 in 100 intubated days.

“Any unplanned extubation has the potential to cause harm to the patient and negatively impact overall patient satisfaction,” says Powell. “We wanted to improve our performance on this metric.”

Powell’s Lean Six Sigma project team included a multidisciplinary group of nurses, respiratory therapists, a neonatal nurse practitioner, and a neonatologist.

The team began by using Lean Six Sigma tools to brainstorm reasons why unplanned extubations were occurring, as well as solutions for stopping them. “The fishbone diagram and cause maps were among the most helpful tools we used,” Powell says. “We looked at the highest impact solutions, as well as how easy they would be to implement, and prioritized solutions from there.

“This step helped us to organize and roll out our seven improvements into two phases,” she says.

Along with more frequent communication between nurses and respiratory therapists before, during, and after an intubation, as well as educational information distributed in meetings and via email, one improvement implemented was the “two to turn” rule. “Anytime an intubated patient is repositioned, one caregiver is turning the patient and another is holding the tube at the patient’s mouth,” Powell explains.

The team applied the improvements for several months, as collecting enough data to meet the required 100 intubated days for pre- and post-improvement comparison proved difficult for many reasons.

“There is a continuing trend in neonatal care to use devices such as masks and nasal prongs to connect the patient to the ventilator to help with breathing. When these devices are used, there is no need for a breathing tube, which reduces the number of intubated days and lengthened our post-improvement data collection period,” Powell says. “That, coupled with greater attention to our weaning protocol, which focused on shortening the time babies need ventilator support of their breathing, contributed to why we saw a reduced amount of intubated days.

“Of course, fewer intubated days was a good thing in this case, and supported the idea that our improvements were working,” adds Powell.

To compare unplanned extubations, pre- and post-improvement, the team visualized their data using control charts in Minitab Statistical Software.

Minitab graphs clearly reveal the impact of improvement efforts. This control chart displays the reduction in unplanned extubations after Lean Six Sigma improvements were implemented.

To verify their results statistically, the team ran a 2 proportions test in Minitab to see if their unplanned extubation rates decreased after improvements were put into place.

Hypothesis testing in Minitab makes it easy to determine if there is enough evidence in a sample of data to infer that a certain condition is true for an entire population.

The analysis showed the team that after improvements were implemented, the unplanned extubation rate had indeed decreased.

The team also used Minitab to perform process capability analysis both pre- and post-improvement. This tool provided another before-and-after comparison of unplanned extubation rates, and aided the project team in assessing whether the new process was capable and in statistical control.

“I have never taken a statistics course and have no background in this type of work,” Powell notes, “but Minitab, coupled with the instruction I received from the Center for Operations Excellence, made it easy for me to analyze and understand my data.”

Trauda Gilbert, deployment leader for the Center for Operations Excellence at Akron Children’s, echoes Powell. “To be able to use Minitab to visually demonstrate the before and after effect with a control chart, which you can then share with your team and champion is really valuable. Minitab also makes it easy for front-line staff to document that they have made a statistically significant difference. To be able to do that without having to interact with a biostatistician or one of the other very rarely found statistical resources in our organization, is very beneficial,” she notes.

“Healthcare quality is a little different than manufacturing because we can’t just run a DOE and tweak a process line,” says Gilbert. “Even though we’re different, Minitab still helps us out.”

Results

The data revealed a dramatic reduction in intubated days after the improvements were made, as well as a considerable reduction in the rate of unplanned extubations at the Mahoning Valley campus. The reductions brought their rates in line with the Vermont Oxford Network’s suggestion of 2 unplanned extubations in 100 intubated patient days.

“This project showed us that simple improvements can create real change,” says Powell. “The cultural change this project instilled in our team was exciting—the recognition that even they could make a difference is huge.”

Cost savings resulting from the reduction in supplies and staff time needed to care for unplanned extubations can be calculated, but the overall financial impacts are hard to quantify. “The larger costs of unplanned extubations—such as a longer NICU length of stay, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and other setbacks that the patient can experience from the event—can be difficult to tease out,” Powell says.

“Neonatal patients are some of our key customers here,” she continues. “Due to the fact that they were born early, they come back to our institution for care frequently, especially initially. Making sure they have a safe experience early is critical, because the results of good care at this stage can have exponential benefits for patients in the future.”

In addition to improving the patient experience, the project helped Powell obtain her Lean Six Sigma belt certification. “I did get my green belt as a result, and we’ve also rolled out selected improvements to the NICU at our Akron campus,” she says. “We’re in the process of collecting data there as well, so this project didn’t just stop in Mahoning Valley.”

Powell’s project is just one example of an estimated 300 documented projects that have been completed throughout the Akron Children’s organization. The total financial savings of the hospital’s operations excellence program is estimated to be more than $25 million since its official beginnings in 2008.

Learn more about lean six sigma in healthcare :  Six Sigma Master Class – Improving Healthcare Processes

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