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Healthcare & Medical

Study Shows Technology’s Role In Reducing Wait Times

By a Verblio Writer

(601 words)

Study Shows Technology’s Role In Reducing Wait Times

All medical practice managers can attest to the problems created by long wait times, both when patients arrive for their appointments, and for the patients who have to wait weeks or months just to get an appointment. Consequences include low patient satisfaction, barriers to getting the care a patient needs, and burnout among medical staff.

A paper recently published by the Institute of Medicine examines how continuous improvement strategies, referred to as Lean Six Sigma (LSS), used in the industrial engineering and manufacturing trades can help health-care practices and hospitals run more efficiently. The paper, written by representatives from six U.S. health-care systems, based their research on a study performed by Monash University in Melborne. Here are some of their interesting findings.

What Is Lean Six Sigma Management?

Lean continuous management techniques focus on reducing waste. For example, health care professionals want to focus on serving patients. The more time spent in wasteful activities, such as looking for supplies, searching for information, or simply duplicating steps that have already been performed by someone else is considered wasteful. Six Sigma is a data-driven method for reducing waste in any process. Combined, these techniques have been used across many sectors to improve efficiency. The Institute of Medicine article specifically looks at how technology is helping health-care practices and hospitals implement these strategies.

Technology To Improve Transparency

Researchers found that simply taking a proactive approach and setting expectations regarding wait times improves the patient experience. Seattle Children’s Hospital President Lisa Brandenburg was one of the paper’s authors. This facility found that technology solutions help them accurately estimate wait times. The hospital’s clinics now post these times in all lobbies, setting patient expectations. Improved communication and scheduling has also allowed Seattle’s clinics to reduce the wait time for getting an appointment, from 18 days to 12 days.

Does it seem impractical that technology can help improve wait times? Consider this. An emergency room is probably the most difficult place to monitor and reduce wait times, since none of the patients are scheduled. However, the ER at Seattle Children’s hospital was able to do just that through computerized monitoring. Instead of a reactive approach, the ER is able to be proactive, using metrics to track patient flow and predict wait times. “Everyone involved has a shared belief that it’s possible to create high quality, high value experiences for the patient with less waiting and more patient-focused care,” said Brandenburg. She explained that long wait times require a solution that is focused on improving the efficiency of scheduling systems.

Technology To Improve Efficiency

The Melborne study went even further by following hospitals that had used other types of technology in their management strategies. For instance, one hospital in the study purchased bed-monitoring software, specifically for their rehabilitation unit. The facility was able to increase patient flow, and reduce high-occupancy numbers. Getting patients into the rehab unit quicker ultimately led to faster discharge times. Technology combined with LSS management techniques allowed facilities to reduce cost and employee stress.

While the ultimate goal was to decrease ER wait time, the trickle-down effect led to greater efficiency throughout. Similarly, in a private medical practice, reducing wait times can have a domino effect throughout the operation of the practice. In the study and the subsequent paper that followed, greater efficiency hinged on the use of technology.

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