Health Systems by D. Junell Scheeres
Industrial Engineer's monthly column about applying industrial engineering in health services (September 2010)
Healthcare executives must constantly survey the environment for changes. Consistently applied and supported strategic planning processes and tools can add value to the healthcare executive team of financial, operational and clinical leaders.
Industrial engineers and performance improvement practitioners can contribute to this effort. I recently polled some healthcare leaders about their “top-of-mind” issues and how they incorporate these concerns into strategic planning activities. They enthusiastically praised industrial engineering tools and detailed examples of how they have applied them in healthcare delivery support activities.
C-suite: The chief executive team develops and supports the organization’s core mission, vision and values, setting goals and objectives to keep the organization on course. They acquire the funding, apply the resources and respond to the direction of governing boards and other oversight agencies.
IEs with strategic planning expertise may lead workshops, develop and report balanced scorecard metrics, and use SWOT analysis and performance metrics results to identify, link and align potential improvement projects to strategic objectives. Some facilities place chief performance officers on senior leadership teams to facilitate major cultural and business transformation initiatives.
Midlevel: Midlevel managers and directors are most concerned with the operational and tactical deployment of healthcare products and services. They create, review and react to periodic performance reports. They provide the executive team with subject matter expertise about emerging trends, clinical practices and new equipment.
IEs can partner with operational leaders to collect and organize data into meaningful information. They can document clinical and business processes. They may create simulations and forecasting models, help optimize physical layout, balance workload, and maximize production in work centers like the pharmacy. They can provide supply chain expertise for inventory and materiel management plans and assist in patient throughput and capacity planning in work centers like the operating room.
Helping managers capture and respond to process-level leading indicators can influence performance outcomes that end up on those balanced scorecards the executive team uses throughout the strategic planning cycle.
Point-of-service: Patient and staff engagement happens at the point of service. Care delivery decisions depend on the availability of real-time information and feedback. This is where healthcare happens. IE tools that reduce waste, standardize processes, organize data and enhance the staff and patient experience are all targets of opportunity. Long-term strategic planning depends on organizational viability. Organizational viability depends on successful care delivery and positive patient outcomes. Reducing barriers at the point of service strengthens the healthcare organization’s overall strategic position.
External: An often overlooked area of potential IE support is research and development and thought leadership. Academic and practitioner-based organizations should publish case studies and research in healthcare management forums on how IEs make a difference in healthcare. Labor and supply cost reductions, productivity enhancement through technology, streamlined processes and anything to support patient safety are issues for today’s healthcare executives involved in strategic planning. Give them something to talk about!
D. Junell Scheeres is president of LS2 Performance Solutions LLC and is a lean Six Sigma master black belt with more than 25 years of industrial engineering experience improving healthcare in the military, public and private sectors. She is a Diplomate and previous board member of IIE’s Society for Health Systems. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.