How Six Sigma Can Help Healthcare Management

Healthcare as an industry seems about as far as you could get from making washing machine manufacturing or constructing highways. But for all the differences between industries, some things are common to all. One of those is the need to work efficiently and avoid waste.

That’s why the use of Six Sigma methodologies is gaining more interest from executives in healthcare providers. Six Sigma is a form of statistical quality control, a type of management discipline that started in the manufacturing industry. This particular version started when some engineers at Motorola decided to measure defects per millions of devices and used the term “six sigma” to indicate a low defect rate six standard deviations from typical results.

The concept wasn’t news, as engineers and scientists had started refining statistical process control in the early 20th century. Eventually some began applying the techniques to management in companies, reducing variations in operations and improving quality of manufactured products. Japanese auto makers were early proponents of the techniques and used them to make cars of superior quality that helped expand their markets.

In healthcare, the central idea of Six Sigma methodology is that defects are those things that lead to patient dissatisfaction. A defect could mean anything from long waits for appointments, confusing instructions, or ineffective or injurious procedures and treatments.

By reducing defects, a provider can achieve higher levels of performance:

High levels of performance mean high volume, fast turnaround times, very few errors or defects and low cost. Effective and efficient processes also help to reduce staff turnover and increase retention by eliminating one of the main causes of high turnover – cumbersome and complex procedures and routines. And finally, Six Sigma promises to overcome the challenge of all professional disciplines – leveraging effective techniques and methods across the board – and dramatically decreasing medical errors.

There are five general steps to using Six Sigma:

  1. Define the customers (patients), requirements, problems, plans, milestones, and other aspects of understanding and addressing the issues.
  2. Measure the processes, collect data, and determine baseline performance.
  3. Analyze the data, identify sources of variation, and determine their root causes.
  4. Begin improving processes by eliminating defects.
  5. Control future performance with standards and statistical process control.

Making use of Six Sigma in healthcare is not easy. It takes extensive work to learn the methodologies and how to apply them. Some studies suggest that current literature is unclear on whether the techniques are being used correctly or if they actually improving quality of care, even though others say the use of such tools will be imperative for organizations to remain competitive and survive. Taken together, the studies suggest that executives and managers understand the issues of Six Sigma and what implementation would require and could deliver so as to make informed decisions.

Are you interested in finding a rewarding and lucrative healthcare career that fits your individual strengths and interests? Find out how education can help you adapt to the changing healthcare landscape. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of healthcare management degrees, including an MBA Healthcare and Master of Science Business Intelligence and Analytics.