Six Sigma Popularized by Motorola and General Electric Co. in the 1980s and 90s, Six Sigma’s continuous improvement meth- odology refines internal processes, lim- its defects and enhances customer satis- faction. After its introduction 20 years ago, Six Sigma saved GE as much as $12 billion over five years by streamlin- ing processes, according to some esti- mates. Much the same, Six Sigma can help ASCs today improve operations, create standardization and limit cler- ical errors, resulting in stronger cash flow and happier patients. Billing and coding, in particular, often see the big- gest benefits from the application of Six Sigma methodology, as seemingly small errors in these areas can produce dramatic reductions in reimbursements. The Six Sigma concept Define

Optimize Operations

Fine tune your organization’s information technology investments with process improvement tools BY LEWIS CUSTER

Once available only to the largest organizations, an array of information technology (IT) solutions is now within the reach

of virtually every provider and health care business today. These tools offer new opportunities to streamline oper- ations, improve efficiency and create growth in an increasingly competi- tive marketplace. At facilities large and small, how-

ever, software and hardware projects often fall short because the under- lying operational components they are intended to improve are poorly engineered. Lending new credence to “garbage in, garbage out”—a decades-old mantra often attributed to IBM—many of today’s health care IT investments will never reach their


full potential because inefficien- cies are hardwired into the processes themselves. A few decidedly low-tech solu- tions can fine tune these processes and help realize all the benefits technology promises. More and more, outpatient providers are turning to proven manual process evaluation and improvement tools such as Six Sigma and Lean to unlock the full potential of their IT investments, improve consistency and create the right foundation for run- ning a financially successful modern health care facility. In fact, nearly one third of health care quality specialists say that process improvement tools are “extremely important” in helping “health care organizations to cut costs and reduce waste,” according to a 2014 American Society for Quality survey.

Measure Analyze Improve Control (DMAIC) is typically used to turn- around poorly performing billing and coding operations at ASCs. Developed for refining existing processes, impor- tant aspects of each milestone include: ■

Define: To describe the full extent of the problem, solicit input from all internal and external and develop goals.

stakeholders ■

Measure: To develop and apply base- line metrics once the scope of the problem is defined. This step allows stakeholders to assess efficiency and effectiveness of the processes.

■ ■ ■

Analyze: To crunch data and identify root causes of inefficiency.

Improve: To propose, vet and test solutions.

Control: To establish and monitor the new processes. Too frequently a pro- cess is overhauled and old habits return after a few weeks. Compliance is cru- cial to achieving long-lasting results.


While the goal of Six Sigma is to reduce errors, Lean practices are designed to maximize efficiency and

The advice and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not represent official Ambulatory Surgery Center Association policy or opinion.

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