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Why Six Sigma is Ideal for the Healthcare Industry

Why Six Sigma is Ideal for the Healthcare Industry

Four healthcare professionals looking at a computer together with a blue banner that reads "six sigma in healthcare".

Last Updated October 19, 2023

While Six Sigma has proven itself in manufacturing and service industries, some question whether its strengths can be transferred to the healthcare field. That uncertainty has been addressed in recent years as more healthcare organizations have implemented the Six Sigma methodology and reaped its rewards.

Healthcare providers that employ Six Sigma principles have improved service levels, decreased costs, enhanced customer satisfaction and elevated clinical excellence. There are a growing number of real-life examples to prove it.

Six Sigma Helps Reduce Patient Wait Times

The North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York experienced high wait times in its emergency room. Walk-in patients waited on the average of 187 minutes to see an emergency room doctor and receive treatment. Workers believed that the department was simply understaffed.

By applying Six Sigma’s rigorous techniques for data gathering and analysis, North Shore was able to determine how patients were progressing through different points of the process. Analysis revealed several major bottlenecks in the patient flow process. Large variation in the process was caused by the physician and other delays were caused by the registrar on duty and batching charts.

Six Sigma analysis identified that delays were not caused by understaffing but by inefficient processes. Once the Six Sigma team identified and addressed the root cause of the problem, wait times decreased by 37%.

Six Sigma Helps Reduce Medication Errors

Like many healthcare organizations, Virtua Health was concerned about medication management processes for the 70 million Americans with some form of cardiovascular disease. A Six Sigma project team was formed as part of Virtua Health’s Cardiac Program of Excellence.

The team performed a work-out to set the standard for patient chart review. Based on these new standards, the team identified that most errors in the current process involved documentation issues.

Using Six Sigma principles helped improve the coordination of care, increased the nursing staff’s knowledge base of cardiac medications and initiated better overall documentation of care.

Six Sigma Helps Tackle Medical Errors

The Institute of Medicine estimates that 98,000 Americans die every year because of medical mistakes. These errors also cost an estimated $29 billion. A study from Harvard University estimated that 1.3 million people are injured in U.S. hospitals every year.

Six Sigma has enormous potential to make a difference in the healthcare industry where a medical error could literally make the difference between life and death.

Today Six Sigma is being used to improve the faulty processes that potentially put patients in danger.

Opportunities in Healthcare for Six Sigma

A field like healthcare, which we all rely on for excellence, needs the process improvement that Six Sigma brings. Six Sigma can be applied to so many areas of healthcare, including:

  • Purchasing and Supply Chain
  • Clinical Research
  • Billing and Coding
  • Laboratory Efficiency
  • Maintenance
  • Scheduling
  • Patient Education
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As the healthcare sector seeks to reduce costs while improving the quality of patient care, Six Sigma may very well provide an answer for an industry that requires as few defects as possible.