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Lean hacks that can accelerate your recovery from COVID-19

Hospital administrators in a discussion about lean hospital process improvement efforts

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how healthcare works — from the way providers utilize PPE to facility-wide infection control measures. These sweeping changes can lead to duplicate efforts and wasted labor throughout your organization. However, applying some basic quality improvement strategies from the Lean methodology can help you identify and eliminate waste and standardize your processes to increase efficiency, lower costs, and improve employee job satisfaction.  

What is Lean?

Lean is a methodology that focuses on customer value through creating better processes and eliminating waste. It leans heavily on the principles of continuous improvement, teamwork, and the concept of kaizen (change for the better). Lean principles can be used in any industry and provide myriad benefits when implemented, including improved employee engagement and morale, reduced operating costs, and improved safety.

3 Lean hacks to get you started

There are many ways Lean thinking can help you address organizational challenges as you plan for 2021. Here are three strategies to get you started.

1. Process Map

A process map is a visual representation of all the steps done in a particular process. It can help you see which steps are the most time consuming and how they can be changed or eliminated to improve efficiency. To begin, enlist the people who know and perform the work to help you build your process map. Second, go to the area where the work is being performed to ensure the map reflects reality. Finally, create the process map in a tangible way — using sticky notes or a whiteboard — to allow for easy changes.

A process map is the launching pad for implementing other lean strategies according to Michelle Rhodes-Horsley, a senior Lean analyst at CHG Healthcare. She says that mapping the whole process will enable stakeholders to see where waste is most apparent and start attacking it from there.

2. Standard Work

Inconsistency is one of the biggest impediments to efficient workflows, and standard work ensures work is performed the same way every time. Start by looking at positions where the job has a high amount of variation so you can quickly eliminate waste by standardizing the work.

For example, one common standard work tool — the checklist — is most effective when it includes steps (what), key points (how), and reasons (why). Rhodes-Horsley says now is a great time to review and update your checklists, especially because many processes may have changed due to the pandemic. “Many hospitals could benefit by updating their existing documentation to reflect all of the new changes and restrictions they have had to accommodate,” she says.

3. Voice of the Customer

Understanding what your customer wants and needs is critical if you want the work you do to provide value. Voice of the Customer (VOC) research can help you better understand your customer’s needs. And it’s important to remember that not all customers are external. Any time you are passing a product, service, or any other piece of work downstream, even within your company, you are interacting with a customer and there is an opportunity to get feedback on your process.

VOC research is simply gathering information directly from your customers by asking them questions about their experience with your work or team. Once you’ve received their input, acting on their suggestions to make improvements in a thoughtful and timely manner will not only improve your processes but increase customer satisfaction as well.

Quick-win improvements

Fully implementing the Lean methodology can be a lengthy, intensive process — but getting started doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are five ways to achieve meaningful results quickly.

Updating checklists

Creating and updating checklists is a great way to get started on standard work. Rhodes-Horsley says she’s seen many healthcare organizations that don’t reap the full benefit from their checklists because they were created so long ago that some sections aren’t applicable. Reviewing checklists across teams can also help you identify if there is overlap between departments or if there are process changes that be implemented upstream or downstream for greater efficiency.

Sharing common information

It’s common for many departments to need access to the same type of information. By having discussions between departments or creating process maps, you can determine who uses the same documents or who might be waiting on specific information to do their job. “One of our clients had us help them set up a shared smart sheet so they could keep track of all the information in one place,” Rhodes-Horsley says.  

Standardizing the application process

Rhodes-Horsley says many healthcare facilities have become more efficient by moving their provider applications online and standardizing how they’re saved. “If one department requires a CV to be a PDF and another needs it as a Word doc, do we really all need it our separate ways? Or maybe we can agree to make it a PDF and save time for people.”

Organizing folders into files

Taking time to organize the folders in a shared email account or a physical file space is a quick way to make documents easier to find when multiple people need to access them. A logical folder system can also reduce the amount of time employees spend looking for specific items.

Simplify approvals

Many decisions are held up because they need an approval. “We talked with a credentialing team and a lot of their meetings couldn’t be completed until they got an approval,” Rhodes-Horsley says. “We found that just by asking the CEO if they could attend the credentialing meeting, it ended up speeding up quite a few approvals.”

How to get started

Many facilities hold off on process improvements, telling themselves there will be a better time to work on them in the future. But there’s no better time to begin making changes than right now.

“It can be easier to convince colleagues of the need when there’s already a culture of improvement,” says Rhodes-Horsley. “If your hospital already has meetings about KPIs and quality metrics, you’re already trying to improve and this is just a continuation of that effort,” she says.

Healthcare leaders who cultivate an environment of trust will have employees who feel comfortable sharing improvement ideas. “People have a lot of ideas, but are they being asked about them? And if they are, how are they going about it?” asks Rhodes-Horsley.

There are many ways to approach quality improvement but choosing the right one is less important than just getting started. Once you’ve begun making changes and experienced the benefits, it will only get easier.

Whatever your facility’s plans are for 2021, CHG can provide you with the doctors, nurses, and allied professionals you need to provide the best care for your community. Contact us by phone at 866.588.5996 or email at ecs.contact@chghealthcare.com.

About the author

Alisa Tank

Alisa Tank

Alisa Tank is a communications coordinator at CHG Healthcare. She’s passionate about making a difference in the lives of others. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, road trips, and exploring Utah’s desert landscapes.

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