The Top Five Insights into Healthcare Operational Outcomes Improvement
The complexity of healthcare delivery—from varying levels of care, multiple processes and departments, different teams and team members, and more—to its state of flux under constant reform, demands effective organizational operations. Operational effectiveness ensures health systems run efficiently while delivering high-quality, appropriate care. Healthcare operations cover the administrative, financial, legal, and clinical activities that keep health systems caring for patients. With operations so critical to care delivery, forward-thinking organizations continuously strive to improve their operational outcomes.
Prominent thought leadership on healthcare operational improvement has addressed common industry challenges, including waste reduction, obstacles in process change, limited hospital capacity, and complex project management. Solutions and lessons learned from these insights center on holistic approaches that address improvement on an organizationwide level, strategies that align improved patient care and experience with cost savings, and the importance of analytics-driven and -measured changes.
Five Top Operational Improvement Insights from Health Catalyst
The following five articles describe the dominant challenges, opportunities, solutions, and lessons learned in operational outcomes improvement for healthcare organizations.
Recoverable healthcare waste costs the U.S. over $1 trillion annually. Fortunately, quality improvement theory (per W. Edwards Deming) intrinsically links high-quality care with financial performance and waste reduction. According to Deming, better outcomes eliminate waste (i.e., any consumption of resources that doesn’t optimally benefit the patient), thereby reducing costs.
To improve quality and process, and ultimately financial performance, an industry must first determine where it falls short of its speculative potential. Healthcare fails in five critical areas:
- Massive variation in clinical practices.
- High rates of inappropriate care.
- Unacceptable rates of preventable care-associated patient injury and death.
- A striking inability to “do what we know works.”
- Vast amounts of waste.
The key to Deming’s strategy is to practice continual improvement and think of the manufacturing or business process as a holistic system, not as separate departments. In healthcare, this comprehensive system is known as team-based care, a collaborative, goal-oriented approach to patient-centered care with a direct impact on a health system’s bottom line.
As healthcare witnesses exponential growth in data, health systems must navigate using that data to drive improvement. Healthcare has historically been slow to adopt new technologies for reasons including budget constraints and regulatory burdens, as well as an inability, or a lack of experience, to effectively implement changes, including using the correct methods to understand the impact of technology and practice changes on outcomes.
An eight-step improvement model gives health systems a framework for effectively applying improvement science, measuring results, and understanding how likely their changes will lead to the desired impacts:
- Analyze the opportunity for improvement and define the problem.
- Scope the opportunity and set goals.
- Explore the root causes behind opportunities and set process aims.
- Design interventions and plan initial implementation.
- Implement interventions and measure results.
- Monitor, adjust, and continually learn.
- Diffuse and sustain.
- Communicate quantitative and qualitative results.
With the demand for patient beds often exceeding the number of beds available, many health systems face a hospital capacity problem. The negative impacts of insufficient bed capacity include the following: surgery cancellations, increased length of stay, declining patient and staff satisfaction, increased emergency department length of stay, and turning away transfer patients.
Costly and time-consuming construction isn’t always an option, leading organizations to look to healthcare analytics to get ahead of demand while maintaining or improving patient outcomes and satisfaction. Organizations can use four key concepts to improve capacity management:
- Use data to understand the problem and the target solution.
- Have analytics teams work with units throughout the organization, including leadership.
- Have leaders spend time with the operations team to understand the workflow.
- Recognizing that data analytics tools are only as good as their impact, focus on the ability to leverage data effectively to assess interventions.
In response to the Triple Aim, healthcare leaders commit to advancing processes to improve patient care, reduce costs, and improve the patient’s overall experience and satisfaction. This focus has made healthcare project management skills increasingly integral to health system operations as a means of controlling costs, managing risk, and improving project outcomes.
By applying project management techniques, including waterfall and agile methodologies, organizations can plan, organize, and execute a set of tasks efficiently to maximize resources and achieve specific goals. Adding industry-specific guidelines, healthcare leaders can adapt proven project management techniques for clinical, financial, and operational process improvement.
There’s a formula for success when putting together outcomes improvement projects and organizing the teams that make them prosper. Too often, critically strategic projects launch without the proper planning, structure, or people in place to ensure viability and long-term sustainability. Such projects never achieve the critical mass required to realize substantial improvements, or they fail to achieve sustainable outcomes. A formula for enduring success follows seven simple steps:
- Focus on outcomes (versus accountability).
- Define goals and aim statements early and stick to them.
- Assign an owner of the analytics (report or application) upfront.
- Involve end users in the planning process.
- Design the process to make doing the right thing easy.
- Don’t underestimate the power of one-on-one training.
- Engage a project champion.
The Importance of Pragmatic, Proven Healthcare Operations Insight
Healthcare operational improvement projects are typically additional responsibilities for team members who help advance their organizations’ strategic goals. From frontline clinicians to administrative and IT departments, these roles and skillsets are critical to improving healthcare outcomes. Yet, these individuals already have full responsibilities in addition to the improvement initiative. Healthcare leaders can look to proven, data-driven strategies and experiences within the industry to ensure the best guidance for supplemental yet critical improvement work.
Would you like to learn more about this topic? Here are some articles we suggest:
- Removing Barriers to Clinician Engagement: Partnerships in Improvement Work
- How Healthcare Cost-Per-Case Improvements Deliver Big Bottom-Line Savings
- Is a Medical Writer the Missing Accelerant to Your Outcome Improvement Efforts?
- Four Essential Ways Control Charts Guide Healthcare Improvement
- Outcomes Improvement Governance: A Handbook for Success and Achieving More with Less