How Lean Six Sigma Works in Healthcare Should Your Organization Implement Lean Six Sigma Strategies to Improve Patient Safety

Published by

Mar 24, 2021

Lean Six Sigma is a business optimization method that focuses on eliminating defects.  

In healthcare, defects can be the difference between life and death. That’s why many healthcare organizations have implemented Lean Six Sigma principles. 

When properly implemented, Lean Six Sigma optimizes every stage of patient care – from revenue cycles to patient outcomes.  

Today, we’re explaining how Lean Six Sigma works in healthcare – and how it can help your organization eliminate defects.  

What is Lean Six Sigma?  

Lean Six Sigma is a method that emphasizes a collaborative team effort for improving performance and reducing inefficiencies. 

The method is based on lean manufacturing techniques. If you’re familiar with lean healthcare practices, then Lean Six Sigma may sound familiar. 

In addition to targeting defects and waste, Lean Six Sigma targets overall cultural change. The system emphasizes growth and optimization. 

You’ll encounter Lean Six Sigma at a range of corporations. It rose to popularity with electronics companies and car companies.  

Since the mid-2000s, however, we’ve seen Lean Six Sigma in healthcare, finance, supply chain, and other sectors.  

When implemented successfully, Lean Six Sigma maximizes efficiency while increasing profitability – in any field.  

How Lean Six Sigma Works with Healthcare 

Many healthcare organizations use lean healthcare practices – or specific Lean Six Sigma strategies – to maximize efficiency and increase profitability. 

Healthcare consultants spot inefficiencies within an organization. Good organizations can quickly fix these inefficiencies and move forward. Some organizations, however, need sweeping cultural changes and foundational shifts.  

The purpose of Lean Six Sigma is to identify defects. In healthcare, a single defect can be the difference between life and death. 

Medical errors in the United States contribute to the deaths of more than 210,000 people per year. They also cost healthcare organizations over $17.1 billion per year.  

By implementing Lean Six Sigma strategies, healthcare organizations can improve patient safety by eliminating life-threatening errors. It’s not just about optimizing revenue: it’s about improving patient safety. 

Benefits of Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare 

Lean Six Sigma and similar strategies can improve patient outcomes, maximize efficiency, and boost revenue at any healthcare organization. 

When properly implemented, Lean Six Sigma could improve the follow areas of your healthcare organization: 

  • Reduce waiting times in hospitals and private practices 
  • Reduce the risk of a defect that negatively affects patient outcomes 
  • Prevent falls, injuries, and other accidents in the workplace for patients and staff 
  • Reduce medication errors when prescribing or administering drugs 
  • Reduce unnecessary expenses 
  • Improve workplace environment, efficiency, and safety for staff  

How to Implement Lean Six Sigma 

Healthcare organizations may partner with healthcare consultants to implement Lean Six Sigma methods. Many healthcare consultants are certified in Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology.  

Certified LSS experts often recommend the DMAIC method, where you Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control defects within a healthcare organization: 

Define: The consultant defines the problems with the process and sets goals. The consultant might observe high rates of medication errors, for example, and sets a goal of reducing those errors. The analyst then creates a process map that details each step of the process, from the initial prescription to the final dispensing. 

Measure: The consultant measures how the current process performs, gathering data for each step. The consultant looks for bottlenecks or areas with a high rate of errors. Where is the process inefficient? 

Analyze: The consultant analyzes data from each step, identifying areas that could be optimized. The goal is not just to identify bottlenecks, but to identify the root cause of those bottlenecks. 

Improve: The consultant develops and tests solutions. The consultant might recommend an extra safety check before the final dispensing of the prescription, for example, among other solutions. 

Control: The consultant ensures the new prescription procedure stays on course. The consultant monitors the new system, analyzes the improvement at each step of the way, and verifies the improved outcomes. 

The consultant repeats this process at every step of the organization. 

Some of these consultants work within organizations. They have titles like Chief Patient Experience Officer or Director of Quality Management. 

Other organizations hire outside consultants. 

Some healthcare consultants specifically advertise their Lean Six Sigma certification. Or, a healthcare organization may require Lean Six Sigma certification for some leadership positions – including a Green Belt or Black Belt certificate.  

Final Word 

Lean Six Sigma, also known as LSS, is a proven methodology that could improve patient outcomes – and boost revenue.  

Many healthcare organizations have implemented Lean Six Sigma strategies with powerful results. Some healthcare organizations achieve similar results just by implementing basic lean healthcare practices. 

HMI, LLC specializes in spotting inefficiencies within healthcare organizations.  

Contact HMI, LLC for a consultation – and discover how your organization can improve patient outcomes and revenue. 


Articles authored by HMI Corporation

Published: Mar 24, 2021