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Italian Doctors Report Less Surgical Procedure Infections After Employing Lean Six Sigma

By Bisk on February 09, 2017
Italian Doctors Report Less Surgical Procedure Infections After Employing Lean Six Sigma

Looking for a way to reduce surgical procedure infections among patients, Dr. Emma Montella and members of the staff at University Hospital “Federico II” in Italy turned to Lean Six Sigma.

In a study published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, Montella and her colleagues reported that implementing Lean Six Sigma resulted in fewer days in the hospital for patients and a reduction in those infected with hospital-associated infections.

They used data from 20,000 patients who underwent a variety of surgeries at the Naples-based hospital between January 2011 and December 2014. They found that adopting Lean Six Sigma resulted in a 20% drop in time patients spent in the hospital, due in part to the reduction of infections.

“Nowadays, the monitoring and prevention of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) is a priority for the healthcare sector,” the team wrote in the journal.

The study’s findings provide another example of how the Six Sigma methodology can prove highly useful in healthcare settings.

“This approach, together with other tools for reducing the risk of infection (surveillance, epidemiological guidelines and training of healthcare personnel), could be applied to redesign and improve a wide range of healthcare processes,” wrote the authors of the study.

The Focus of Lean Six Sigma

Industries have adopted Six Sigma for years as a way to improve processes, with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of errors to less than 3.4 per million units or opportunities.

Lean Six Sigma further distills the methodology, focusing primarily on reducing wasteful steps that are unnecessary to a process. Only steps that directly add value remain a part of the project.  

Lean Six Sigma addresses eight areas of waste. An easy way to remember them: the first letters of each waste spells out TIM WOODS. Here are the groups with examples of each:

  • Transport – Inefficient movement of people, products and information
  • Inventory – Storing paper, parts and pieces ahead of when they are needed
  • Motion – Making movements, such as bending, turning, reaching and lifting more efficient
  • Waiting – Losing productive time because of delays in the delivery of items such as information, parts and instructions
  • Over production – Making more than what is immediately required
  • Over processing – Using higher grade materials or building in tighter tolerances than what is required
  • Defects – Redoing tasks or reworking parts because of issues such as incorrect documentation
  • Skills – Underutilizing the capabilities of those on a team or giving people tasks without first properly training them

Lean Six Sigma and Healthcare

The healthcare industry offers fertile ground for the application of Lean Six Sigma, which is why some schools now offer Lean Six Sigma training that focuses specifically on its real-world use in healthcare.

Areas of concern in healthcare that the methodology can address include hospital costs, surgical errors, inefficient flow of information and duplicative care. All of this, as in the case of the hospital in Italy, directly impacts the quality of healthcare.

Other integrations of Lean Six Sigma into healthcare have produced strong results. In 2010, a healthcare worker at an under-staffed and under-equipped hospital in Haiti helped organize better care by using Lean Six Sigma.

Additionally, doctors at the Gastro Intestinal Oncology Center Amsterdam reported a vast improvement in the percentage of medical reports dispatched on the first day of a patient’s visit. By simply employing Lean Six Sigma methodology to the logistics process, the number of medical reports released on the first day soared from 12.3% to 90.6%.

Clearly, these cases, as well as the new study in Italy, indicate Lean Six Sigma can continue to have an impact on helping to streamline healthcare operations for those willing to implement it.

Category: Healthcare