November 3, 2008

Six Sigma Improving Health Care, Keeping Costs Down

Six Sigma has an easy-to-use process that can be applied to almost any area. A good example of this is Six Sigma's use in hospital emergency rooms. The first step is to define the problem. In hospital emergency rooms around the country, the key problem is excessive waiting times. Six Sigma processes further define the problem, narrowing the reasons for this longer wait time to bed availability, long waiting times for specialized tests and radiological services, and high numbers of non-emergency patients.

The next step in Six Sigma training is to develop a solution. In an emergency room situation, this can include adding beds by expanding the department or decreasing the size of current rooms; outsourcing certain testing and radiology services; and/or adding an 'express care' program to deal with non-emergency patients.

A third step is to form a plan for improving the process, measuring improvements to the process, and reducing deviations from the goal. Many hospitals have found that Lean Six Sigma practices are a particularly effective way of identifying and dealing with the challenges and problems inherent to health care.

Much of the cost in modern health care is in bureaucracy and needlessly complicated processes. Six Sigma is a streamlining agent that raises quality while lowering prices. This means lower patient cost and improved hospital profit. Six Sigma practices have the potential to improve not just individual hospitals, but the health care system as a whole.

Six Sigma helps hospitals not just identify problems and solutions, but to move quickly on improvements. Many improvements are implemented within twenty-four hours of being identified. In an industry bogged down with bureaucracy and unnecessary committees, this is a true innovation. Other problems require reorganization of staff and work areas, which can take longer. Although these processes will take longer and require more planning, they should still be begun immediately.

About Six Sigma:

Six Sigma is a quality assurance program that originated with the Motorola corporation. Its practices have been implemented in companies and manufacturing plants around the world and have had overwhelmingly positive results. Its applications in health care are a natural extension of the philosophies of Six Sigma, and are sure to start a positive wave in a field that desperately needs an influx of new ideas.

Six Sigma Certification programs are administered by trained employees who are taught how to use the Minitab software used to plan, administer, and find results of the process. Although it requires system-wide change, companies regain their investments in a shockingly short amount of time. For additional information on Six Sigma philosophy and training, visit

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SOURCE: Six Sigma Online