Hospitals Confront Inefficiencies in Patient Care



  • Research suggests that hospitals can provide faster care and eliminate waste by mimicking assembly-line workflows
  • Hospitals often see temporary dips in productivity when implementing new systems
  • Providers are also addressing ‘human factors’ in the care process, such as encouraging more feedback from patients and clinic employees

What do cars and care have in common? That was a key question at the McCombs Healthcare Initiative Fall Seminar, held Nov. 15 at the McCombs School of Business.

Faculty and other speakers looked from several angles at a single topic: process improvement. As federal regulators and market forces push for higher efficiency and fewer mistakes, providers are searching for new ideas. They’re looking not just in research labs and medical schools, but in warehouses and on assembly lines.

“To transform healthcare, we have to look to models outside healthcare,” said Kristie Loescher, a senior lecturer in management at McCombs. She cited Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center. In 2002, it adapted ideas from Toyota to dissect its workflows and root out waste. Eight years, later, the center was named one of the two top hospitals of the decade by the Leapfrog Group, a business coalition that monitors and rates hospitals.

Doug Morrice, director of the Supply Chain Management Center of Excellence at McCombs, analyzed oilfield services and warehouses before turning his sights to healthcare. At the behest of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, he looked for ways to speed up assessments of patients preparing for surgery. Finding that incomplete patient information was the chief bottleneck, he advocated assigning a nurse navigator to collect it.

The Health Science Center will pilot the new model, which simulations predict will cut a patient’s total clinic time from 81 minutes down to 60. Said Morrice, “They can run clinics at a better level while seeing more patients than they’re currently seeing.”

Other speakers targeted the human factors in process improvements. Ethan Burris, assistant management professor at McCombs, researches tactics for encouraging feedback from staffers and patients. In one study, he found that a simple change in patients’ seating arrangements — positioning them at a higher level than their doctor — made patients 23 percent more comfortable in speaking up.

A common challenge, Burris suggested, arises when workers have different ideas than managers on what needs fixing. “Managers have to communicate downward,” he said, “to help employees understand management’s priorities and tailor their ideas to contribute to those objectives.”

Another human trait is to get discouraged when new processes don’t pay off quickly. Ryan Leslie, vice president of analytics and health economics for the Seton Healthcare Family, warned that hospitals often see a temporary dip in productivity while implementing a new system.

“Leaders have to manage expectations,” said Leslie. “It may be a year or two before you see what you’re hoping to see.”

In the meantime, managers shouldn’t put too much weight on measuring outcomes, said Jan Patterson, associate dean for quality and lifelong learning at the Health Science Center. They should measure how well employees are complying with the new processes, which should lead to better outcomes.

Share those measurements with staff, recommended Ron Brannan, CIO of the Austin Diagnostic Clinic. “To achieve culture change, strive for transparency. Show physicians where they stand against their peers and against a standard,” he said.

Patterson urged providers not to forget the ultimate human factor: committed leadership. “It helps to have clinical champions, leaders who will keep encouraging people to do the right things.”


Faculty in this Article

Kristie J. Loescher

Senior Lecturer McCombs School of Business

Kristie Loescher teaches management, leadership, and business communications. She has a Ph.D. in business administration from Nova Southeastern...

Ethan Burris

Associate Professor of Management McCombs School of Business

Dr. Ethan Burris is an Associate Professor of Management and the Thomas E. & Terry Smith...

Ethan Burris teaches in the Texas Executive Education program, featuring open enrollment, custom and certificate classes for executives and organization teams.

Douglas Morrice

Professor of Information, Risk, and Operations Management McCombs School of Business

Research and Industry Areas: Computer Simulation, Operations Management, Supply Chain Management, Energy, High Technology, Retail

Douglas Morrice teaches in the Texas Executive Education program, featuring open enrollment, custom and certificate classes for executives and organization teams.

About The Author

Steve Brooks

In a quarter-century as a journalist, Steve Brooks has won two Neal awards for excellence in trade reporting and a Press Club of New Orleans award...

Leave a comment

We want to hear from you! To keep discussions on-topic and constructive, comments are moderated for relevance and for abusive or profane language.
Login or register to post comments