Use Data To Drive Improvement
Why Do You Need Measurements?
The best quality improvement initiatives are driven by data! Why? Well, how are you going to know how much you have improved if you don’t measure something?
All of you have been exposed to measures in many situations. Most of them were important. In school, you were graded. Perhaps you own shares of stock; how do you measure the success of the stock — its increase in value, a measurement. How do you know if your team wins? By its score, a measurement. The fact is that many daily activities in life have accompanying measures to judge their success.
You might argue that you know if things are getting better; you can just tell. I am sure that you can. This is not enough, though. In the healthcare field it is important to measure improvement. One reason to do so is to prove to others that things are improving. For instance, suppose you are in charge of implementing electronic health records in a hospital setting. You meet resistance from several staff members, including a large number of doctors. How can you overcome this resistance? Collect data — lower percentage of wrong prescriptions, for instance — from a pilot program of willing participants and then demonstrate the positive benefits with your data. With such results in hand, you will overcome many doubters.
Another reason to measure improvement is to demonstrate the saving of time and money. With healthcare costing so much today that many find care out of their price range, it is important to find ways to lower costs. For instance, suppose that staffing at your facility is very expensive; the payroll costs are way over budget. I recently read of a Lean Six Sigma project that demonstrated through the use of data collecting by staff charge nurses that staffing shortages and costs were significantly reduced. The right staff was present when needed and the facility eliminated the need for using short-term staffing of nurses through agencies; this saved a great deal of money. Besides lowering costs, staff morale improved significantly at this site.
What Should You Measure?
To make significant quality improvements, you should be actively measuring. The most common measurements are costs in providing a service, time taken in providing a service and various measures of patient health, such as the lung capacity of asthmatics. You can also measure improved bottom lines. One doctor I know improved his income 38% in 5 years by working hard to adopt quality measures in his solo practice. Many ER’s now boast of how they have significantly decreased waiting time for patients. One such local hospital did so well that they were overwhelmed by the increase of demand for service at their ER. You might want to measure if eliminating repeated tasks in scheduling could improve processing time, improve the patient experience, or save costs.
Once you have decided what to measure, you should first measure the variable (cost, time, etc.) as it is in the state before you begin an improvement initiative. This is a baseline against which you can measure your improvement. As you begin and proceed through a quality improvement effort, keep track of the measures and see what improvements occur.
Collecting the Data
With the help of the Internet of Things (IoT) manual data entry is rarely needed anymore. Virtually anything connected to the internet has an event log that can be downloaded and transformed. If the information collected is a relatively small set manual calculation of KPIs may work for your company short-term. However, process analytic software is able to take information, combine it, and output KPIs. By using this type of software early, real-time analysis and monitoring are available later on to ensure that you are aware when you reach your goal. Additionally, it will be easier to compare your progress down the line because it will allow for a side by side analysis.
Using Data for Continuous Improvement
Continuously monitoring the process even after the goal has been reached will help keep you from backsliding to the old ineffective state. Backsliding is all too easy. It is hard to break old habits but keeping data and continuous monitoring will help you. This is, in fact, what drives the success of many programs, such as Weight Watchers.
Data driven change is the best way to approach quality improvement. It is the only way that will concretely demonstrate how you are progressing and will prove to others that your company is doing much better.
How do you plan on having your data help guide your measurements for improvement?
About the author
Ryan Raiker is an accomplished business consultant with experience working with small and medium enterprises. Ryan has worked in project management in State, and Local government. He studied Business Analytics and later earned his MBA from Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. Currently Ryan is focusing on Brand Management and Product Development for TimelinePI.