A quality toolbox for every member of the Akron Children’s Hospital family
In the U.S., roughly half of all children treated at pediatric hospitals are covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. As a result, our health care system is constantly striving to maximize resources while maintaining the highest standard of care. We also recognize our responsibility to provide the best possible experience to families at a very difficult time — when they have a sick or injured child.
While helping people is ingrained in our DNA at Akron Children’s Hospital, it is important to give employees practical tools to solve the problems they encounter on a daily basis. To achieve our dual goals of enhancing patient care and increasing efficiency, we developed a training program based on Lean Six Sigma principles, a continuous improvement methodology developed by the manufacturing industry.
We created the Mark A. Watson Center for Operations Excellence to provide workshops of various intensity for our people at all levels. A basic course introduces Lean principles during an eight-week session and requires participants to complete an improvement project in their home department. More in-depth education is offered during a year-long certification program.
Another course is targeted at departmental teams. Over several months, staff members learn together to eliminate waste and streamline their daily workflows. Other concentrated, short-term projects involving cross-functional teams can be organized to tackle specific leadership-driven improvements.
Measure of success
The program is successful because it promotes collaboration, teaches proven root-cause-analysis tools, encourages creative problem solving, delivers concrete results, empowers people and is a recognized staff satisfier.
Success stories include eliminating the need for a planned expansion in a support department, reducing overtime costs, shortening wait times, removing variability in instrument readings, and reducing appointment cancellations and no-shows.
Since the program’s inception in 2008, we estimate the hospital has saved more than $28 million in operational costs, eliminated 57,000 hours of non-value-added staff time, shortened patient waiting by 51,000 days for things like back-to-school health forms or lab test results, and removed 139,000 days for patients to get into an appointment.
We also use Lean design principles, coupled with looking at buildings through the eyes of a child, to plan remodeled spaces and new facilities. These processes ensure our inpatient and outpatient areas work optimally for patients and staff, and are welcoming to families. By evaluating full-scale cardboard mock-ups of new units to gauge space usage and workflow in the planning phase, we have achieved significant savings in construction time and costs.
Other benefits include amplifying the voice of our patient families, better communication between leadership and front-line staff, and heightened awareness of how daily tasks relate to strategic initiatives and impact organizational performance.
The most important benefit, from my perspective, however, is creating empowered employees. By training staff to be engaged problem solvers, we are setting our people — and therefore our organization and the families we serve — up for success.
William Considine, president and CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital, has served as CEO at the hospital for 37 years. He has dedicated his career and personal life to improving pediatric care and the quality of life for children and families.