A couple of months ago Palisade Partner Ed Biernat and I gave the Times of London our perspective on what kinds of workplaces were promising avenues for expansion of Six Sigma. We pointed out that hospital operations were a field wide open for plowing. We didn't go into the substance of this suggestion, but now MindSpring's Sandi Claudell, a Master Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma, has sent us a richly detailed white paper with an example of process improvement in a hospital emergency department.
Sandi's white paper is based on one very simple observation: it's much easier and faster for anyone--a nurse working triage or the statistical analysis geek in biostatistics–-to understand numerical trends if they're presented in graphs rather than tables. Hospitals collect huge amounts of data, and often these are not adequately analyzed or--eventually--used. Sandi suggests that changing the way this information is presented will make a difference in how useful the data become.
Taking a few weeks' worth of emergency department data from an east coast hospital, Sandi asked some questions about the patient's experience that would probably be posed in a standard operation research study. Here are a few of them:
- What was the average amount of time a patient waited inside the emergency department?
- What percentage of these patients waited behind the national benchmark of 4 hours?
- How does the hour of a patient's arrival influence how long he or she waits?
- Does it matter which doctor is running the department?
The various types of graph Sandi uses answer these questions almost immediately--and there are some surprises as you read them. Although it takes a certain amount expertise in statistical analysis to create the graphs, it takes none to read them. There's an old message here, and in this hospital case, it's unavoidable: a picture is worth a thousand words. If you want people in your organization to get real, actionable information from all the data you're gathering, draw a picture with the numbers.
If you're interested in taking a look at Sandi's paper and the numerical pictures in it, go to http://sandiclaudell.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/data-converted-into-information-for-hospital-management/.