Applying the principles of Lean Six Sigma to clinical research is a natural fit as the process is very similar to the scientific method, according to Akron Children’s Hospital’s David Chand, MD, MSE, MBOE, FAAP.
Speaking at Akron Children’s Translational Science Seminar in March, Dr. Chand said that both processes involve defining a problem, understanding the current state of knowledge, formulating and testing a hypothesis, arriving at a conclusion and communicating the results.
“Although Lean Six Sigma’s steps of Define/Measure/Analyze/Improve/Control have their roots in manufacturing, they ring a bell for a lot of people in health care,” he said.
Akron Children’s is at the forefront of using Lean Six Sigma in its research, having already incorporated it into numerous studies.
Dr. Chand defined Lean Six Sigma’s real benefit in health care as offering a strategy that focuses on eliminating waste so that each step in a process creates value for patients.
“Speed is not the goal, but it is the by-product of successful waste reduction,” Dr. Chand said.
Six Sigma means there are six standard deviations (sigma) between target and customer specifications, and only 3.4 defects per million opportunities occur.
“Six Sigma tools are used to determine the significant process inputs which drive the process output you are studying,” he said. “The goal is to deliver exactly what the customer desires while consuming the fewest resources such as time or money.”
Dr. Chand described two projects at Akron Children’s in which Six Sigma principles have been beneficial.
In one, a team was tasked with considering a $3.5 million expansion of the hospital’s sterile processing facilities to increase output. By applying Six Sigma, they were able to instead reconfigure existing physical space and processes to meet the hospital’s needs without a large capital expenditure.
In another, the hypothesis that family-centered rounds would lead to a more efficient rounding process was evaluated. This approach allows caregivers to take part in daily rounds when physicians, nurses and students meet at the patient’s bedside to discuss the child’s progress and medications, as well as a plan of care. While many facilities have used family-centered rounds successfully, they weren’t performed universally at Akron Children’s.
“In case this, we used Lean Six Sigma to demonstrate statistically that an already-proven solution is valid,” he said.
Dr. Chand also told the audience that Lean Six Sigma can be valuable whenever you are studying a process, you have a measurable metric, you can generate one or more hypotheses, and you want to reduce waste and/or variation.