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


Published by shunt27

I am a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt at Palisade Corporation.

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