A sustained commitment to quality and safety improvements is an absolute imperative in today’s patient-centered healthcare environment. In a safety culture, everyone in the organization is not just told to pay attention to safety; instead, they are empowered to take action when they see problems that could result in adverse safety events.

Certainly, we all get how important it is to reduce medical errors; most of those errors, result from system and process failures, not individuals. Hospitals that employ process improvement tools often see measurable improvements in patient safety and satisfaction scores.

What is process improvement? Here’s a quote from the famed Dr. William Edwards Deming, often viewed as the founder and father of process improvement management: “It is not enough to just do your best or work hard. You must know what to work on.” Deming’s principles led to today’s Lean process methodology, which provides specific ways to learn where to focus and how to reduce waste & improve workflow.

These process improvement tools and principles can help improve Patient Safety :

Patient Rounding

Rounds are excellent for assessing and improving hospital processes. Patient rounding is a structured, scheduled process where hospital leaders, managers and frontline care teams purposefully walk through the organization talking to staff and patients. Patient rounding is perhaps the most efficient and effective way to gather actionable data on areas needing attention and improvement. Spending time accompanying patients on their journey in the hospital affords front line staff and leadership the opportunity to not only see the potential waste and inefficiencies in care process, but also to understand patient safety issues directly through the eyes of the patients.

Data Collection and Analytics

One of Deming’s central process improvement tenets was the priority of obtaining reliable data. He would maintain that meaningful improvements in patient safety and quality of care should be driven by data. Tools that help staff systematically collect data for analytics allow leadership to make appropriate process improvements across the organization – based on real-time information.

Plan-Do-Check-Act

The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle or Wheel, is a tool for defining, developing, testing and implementing process improvement solutions.

The four phases are defined thus:

Plan – Identify and analyze the problem.

Do – Develop and test a potential solution(s)

Check – Measure the test solution’s effectiveness, and assess whether it could be improved further.

Act – Implement the improved process.

An important part of this process is its circular aspect; the Deming Cycle entails continuous testing and refinement.

Strong Leadership Commitment

We cannot overemphasize the importance of unwavering leadership support and commitment to continuous process improvement. Leadership must train and empower staff, be actively involved and a visible and vocal champion for embedding patient safety through process improvement into the day-to-day functioning of the organization.

Some hospitals have seen excellent results when they implemented leadership rounding on patients and on staff. These are two separate processes, but both can result in increased patient safety and satisfaction. Leader rounding with staff opens lines of communication so staff can share concerns and ideas about how to improve processes and reduce errors related to inadequate systems. Leader rounds on patients help to reinforce the organization’s commitment to providing excellent care for patients and hearing directly from those patients about issues that need further attention and analysis.

In summary, process improvement tools drive better decisions based on superior data, supported by engaged leadership. Managing the processes of care can deliver solid gains in patient safety and a more meaningful work environment.

What are some other ways process improvement tools can help increase patient safety?

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