Information Rich Data Poor - Data Converted into Information for Hospital Management

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 ORstatistical 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


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