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A Look at Six Sigma's Increasing Role in Improving Healthcare


By University Alliance
Six Sigma's Increasing Role in Improving Healthcare

To help reduce waste and improve quality care, many hospitals and healthcare practices have adopted Six Sigma management tools to help achieve goals. Employing Six Sigma principles in healthcare settings can help eliminate defects and variations in processes, and it can help make procedures more streamlined, less costly and help improve patient care.

In healthcare environments, a defect is defined as a factor that leads to patient dissatisfaction. Examples of defects range from the frustrating kind, such as a long wait to see a doctor, to the serious kind, such as an incorrect diagnosis or treatment.

The Role of Six Sigma in Healthcare

Because patient care is hands-on, the possibility for a variance is larger than in other process-driven industries. Variables may be small and difficult to quantify, but Six Sigma’s data-driven approach can result in measurable improvement.

Six Sigma Requires Five Steps for Quality Improvement

  • Define: Who are the patients, and what do they want? What are the capabilities of the process being measured?  What are our objectives?
  • Measure: What will improvement look like? On what data will our efforts be measured? Metrics used to define performance in a healthcare organization often include service level, service cost, patient satisfaction, and clinical excellence.
  • Analyze: Collect data and analyze using proven tools.
  • Improve: Implement modifications to improve the process.
  • Control: Monitor performance to maintain improvement.

Six Sigma Data and Facts Help Drive Decisions

Six Sigma has been shown to improve patient care by:

  • Reducing the number of errors made by physicians, nurses and technicians
  • Improving lab turnaround times
  • Reducing appointment wait times
  • Decreasing steps in the supply chain
  • Accelerating reimbursement for insurance claims
  • Improving patient outcomes

Examples of Six Sigma Used Successfully in a Healthcare Setting

Patients can access more information on healthcare providers than ever before, and quality of care has been seen as an important factor in deciding which provider patients choose. Healthcare organizations are increasingly regarding patient reviews and perceptions as essential factors for quality improvement, and Six Sigma as the approach to measure and improve these factors.

The Affects of Six Sigma in Healthcare

Here are several healthcare organizations that have successfully adopted Six Sigma as a part of their quality improvement efforts:

  • Mount Carmel Health System: Two years of Six Sigma projects focused on operational issues and business management helped save the healthcare organization $3.1 million. Employee and physician satisfaction rates also improved.
  • Boston Medical Center: A focus on diagnostic imaging resulted in improvements that brought cost savings and revenue increases of more than $2.2 million.
  • Rapides Regional Medical Center: This healthcare organization used Six Sigma methodology to reduce defects in its emergency department. Wait times declined, providers saw more patients and the hospital saved more than $950,000 annually.
  • Valley Baptist Health System: By reducing surgery cycle time using Six Sigma methodology, the hospital added enough capacity to handle 1,100 additional cases per year, increasing potential annual income by $1.3 million.
  • Yale-New Haven Medical Center: Various Six Sigma projects implemented in the surgical intensive care unit resulted in a 75% reduction in bloodstream infections and an estimated $1.2 million in annual savings.

The Benefits of Six Sigma in Healthcare

By understanding patients’ needs and expectations for quality, healthcare organizations may help deliver better patient care. Six Sigma has been shown to significantly impact healthcare management, operations, and direct patient care, resulting in both cost savings and quality improvement.

Whether the need is to move patients more quickly from the emergency room to a hospital room, or improve turnaround times for laboratory procedures, Six Sigma can help healthcare organizations find ways to maximize resources, eliminate waste and get the results they need to reduce costs and increase patient satisfaction.

Category: Six Sigma