Ensuring Success in Your Process Improvement Initiatives

With new regulations, clinical advancements and technological breakthroughs, the healthcare industry continues to be in a state of change. As consumers become more educated and patient satisfaction continues to be at the forefront, providers are focusing on ways to deliver high levels of service to consumers in all areas of healthcare. It's often necessary to determine new and better ways of providing care with the same amount of resources. In order to do this, it's important to ensure that processes are as efficient as possible. 

Process improvement is a proactive approach to reviewing existing processes and practices, making changes that create efficiencies and monitoring progress. When fully implemented, process improvement initiatives can result in efficiencies, increased communication, improved staff satisfaction and more time to spend with patients.

As a health system or acute care facility embarks on the process improvement journey, it's important to structure the project in a way that will achieve the best outcomes. Some areas of focus should include:

  1. Facilitation
  2. Stakeholders
  3. Project scope
  4. Education
  5. Follow up

When your team is engaged in the process every day, they become the experts. They know the process better than anyone else. But, do they know how to improve it?

Having a facilitator that fully understands the components of improving a process is a key to success. This person needs to dedicate time to oversee the entire project and keep it moving forward. Here are some top reasons to have a facilitator:

  • Utilizes a step-by-step approach – The facilitator will guide the team through every step to ensure all aspects are considered and reviewed. This also makes the process “visible.”
  • Views project as a whole – As multiple stakeholders work together on a project, many opinions may surface regarding the importance of parts of the process. This can create some difficulty in seeing how each part effects the others. Facilitators are not emotionally attached to any one part so they can see the process as a whole.
  • Chooses the right project – There are many opportunities to improve processes. It is important to choose projects that will deliver the right return on investment (ROI) and support the goals of the health system. A facilitator can guide the team in reviewing each project to ensure that the right impact is achieved when the project is complete.
  • Possesses expertise and knowledge – Your team knows the process for your health system. However, they may not have access to how similar processes work at other facilities. When a facilitator works with your team, they can bring new ideas and resources based on experience they have gained working with multiple healthcare providers.

Choosing the right stakeholders is a direct effect on the success of the project. If the right stakeholders are not involved, project delays are likely to occur as other team members will need to be consulted as to how the current process works.

With so many knowledgeable team members, how do you decide who will make up a project team? The answer is easier than one may think. Stakeholders own the process. They are the ones that do the work every day and can explain it in detail. They are fully invested in the improvements because it will have direct effects on their work flow.

As you choose stakeholders, it's important that project expectations and timelines are set. This enables each project group member to dedicate the appropriate amount of time and resources. This dedication of time and focus will help ensure the project progresses.

Project Scope
The scope of a project helps define boundaries. It is important that the scope is clearly defined so that it meets the needs of the health system and supports the intended goals. If a scope is not the right size, it may need to be adjusted midway through the project.

In order to ensure you have an appropriate scope, consider the ROI. If the scope is too small, the impact may not be big enough to justify the time and effort spent. If the scope is too large, the team may not be able to manage the project effectively and move it forward.

Process improvement measures are often multifaceted, so understanding the scope can also help redirect the project so that it doesn't become too large and unmanageable. Often, the review of current processes leads to other areas that need improved. As this occurs, many other conversations and idea sharing begins. With a clearly defined scope, it's possible to bring the team’s focus back to the project at hand.

Process improvement is time consuming and can be a big undertaking, especially for a team that has time constraints due to other responsibilities. Even though it seems nearly impossible to dedicate resources to these projects, the benefits of getting processes aligned with goals and creating efficiencies can create results that equal more time and better outcomes.

In order for a team to embrace a project fully, they need to understand why they have been selected to do it. Educating the entire team at the beginning of the project helps clear up questions and gain support. When educating the team, consider:

  • Leadership engagement – A key step to educating the team is defining ROI for the project. Once you have a clear definition, you need to provide the information to leadership teams and ensure you have understanding and buy-in so that they are supportive of the project. When the project team knows that the leadership is in support of their efforts, they are more likely to stay engaged in the process.
  • Stakeholder engagement – The project stakeholders will be your ticket to success. In order for the project to bring the most value to the stakeholders, they need to know why they have been selected. Be sure to communicate that they were selected because they know the process best and you need them to represent it.
  • Departmental education – Often, education of process improvement projects gets done at the stakeholder and leadership levels. This is a great start. In order to ensure success, though, it is necessary to expand this education to the entire department that completes the process. As stakeholders step away from daily routines to work on projects, those remaining in the department may need to cover for them. Help them understand why they are doing this, including how the improvements will make positive long-term improvements on the department.
  • Use terminology they understand – There are many terms associated with process improvement. Make sure that you understand your audience, including their familiarity with process improvement and tailor your message to them.

Follow Up
Having a facilitator, selecting the right stakeholders, clearly defining project scope and educating the team are all key factors to successful implementation of process improvement. Even with all of these factors in place for the initial process improvement, it is not uncommon to see a process breakdown over time. This is often because systems have not been implemented to monitor ongoing success and review for further improvements. To increase the success of your process improvement, consider the following steps:

  • Define metrics – Be sure to capture baseline data and analyze improvements.
  • Make sure the process is repeatable  Document the process and develop standard work.
  • Communicate and educate – Create plans to ensure the information is being shared throughout the organization (this goes beyond those involved in the project).
  • Provide updates – Develop a schedule to make sure the stakeholders, departmental and leadership teams are provided with the same information to ensure continuity.
  • Listen – Create a forum that fosters idea sharing and listen to every individual on the team.
  • Relate the value to the stakeholders – Continually relating the value of the improvements will increase accountability and acceptance of the process.
  • Review for future projects – Areas will be uncovered during the project that may warrant further process improvement. Be sure to fully review these and advance those that will support the health systems goals.

As the healthcare industry continues to rapidly advance, the need for health systems and acute care facilities to focus on continual process improvement becomes even more essential. Concordance Healthcare Solutions understands this and is dedicated to working with providers to ensure the supply chain is as efficient as possible. Contact us today to learn more.

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