How One Team Used Data (Not Intuition) To Improve ED Throughput

By:  David Kashmer, MD MBA (@DavidKashmer)

 

 

Most hospitals want to improve throughput…

 

Have you ever worked at a hospital that wanted to improve its ED throughput?  I bet you have, because almost all do!  Here’s a story of how advanced quality tools lead a team to find at least one element that added 20 minutes to almost every ED stay…

 

Once upon a time…

 

At one hospital where I worked, a problem with admission delays in the emergency department led us far astray when we tried to solve it intuitively. In fact, we made the situation worse. Patients were spending too much time in the emergency room after the decision to admit them was made. There was a lot of consternation about why it took so long and why we were routinely running over the hospital guidelines for admission. We had a lot of case-by-case discussion, trying to pinpoint where the bottleneck was. Finally, we decided to stop discussing and start gathering data.

 

Follow a patient through the value stream…

 

We did a prospective study and had one of the residents walk through the system. The observer watched each step in the system after the team mapped out exactly what the system was.  What we discovered was that a twenty-minute computer delay was built into the process for almost every patient that came through the ED.

The doctor would get into the computer system and admit the patient, but the software took twenty minutes to tell the patient-transport staff that it was time to wheel the patient upstairs. That was a completely unexpected answer. We had been sitting around in meetings trying to figure out why the admission process took too long. We were saying things like, “This particular doctor didn’t make a decision in a timely fashion.” Sometimes that was actually true, but not always. It took using statistical tools and a walk through the process to understand at least one hidden fact that cost almost every patient 20 minutes of waiting time.  It’s amazing how much improvement you can see when you let the data (not just your gut) guide process improvement.

 

The issue is not personal

 

We went to the information-technology (IT) people and showed them the data. We asked what we could do to help them fix the problem. By taking this approach, instead of blaming them for creating the problem, we turned them into stakeholders. They were able to fix the software issue, and we were able to shave twenty minutes off most patients’ times in the ER. Looking back, we should probably have involved the IT department from the start!

 

Significant decrease in median wait time and variance of wait times

 

Fascinatingly, not only did the median time until admission decrease, but the variation in times decreased too.  (We made several changes to the system, all based on the stakeholders’ suggestions.) In the end, we had a much higher quality system on our hands…all thanks to DMAIC and the data…

 

Excerpt originally published as part of Volume to Value:  Proven Methods for Achieving High Quality in Healthcare

 

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