Health

Need better care processes? Look at patients as part of a group

September 8, 2015

Although it is not the usual practice for care professionals, they should look at groups rather than individuals when planning care for patients. This will help them plan for a longer period, writes Freek Aertsen, lecturer in One Day Master Class Lean Operations in Care, in this column. And this has benefits such as more satisfied patients and staff, and lower costs.

When, some time ago, I went to see a doctor with pain in my lower back, I had made a whole list of questions to ask. They were all very practical questions, especially about what is and is not good for my back. I asked my doctor all these questions. But after 10 minutes, halfway through my list, the assistant interrupted me: my time was up. As a patient, I was not very happy about that. But if viewed from the perspective of my own area of expertise – operations and supply chain excellence –the meeting had been planned perfectly.

The hospital where I had my appointment kept the public interest in mind. That is something that I also try to teach during my lectures: create patient groups so you can do long-term planning. This is quite a challenge for care workers. They are used to looking at the interests of the individual patient. This is good for patients in terms of the care they receive, but if you want to optimize processes, it is better to look at averages, so that you can plan well ahead.

Better processes in the care industry? TIAS and Skipr organize the One Day Master Class Lean Operations in Care.

At first, Ms. Johnson's case may seem unique, but there are quite a few such cases in a year. By doing research in advance, by looking at the past, you can differentiate various patient groups. They have done this, for example, in the doctor’s surgery, where my wife works. This is how they know how much time a patient in a particular patient group needs. Patients who require a lot of time at the doctor's, for example, if they are going to receive bad news, are scheduled at the end of the day. That way, there is little chance of overrunning the schedule.

By placing patients into groups, a care organization can also make longer term plans. This approach has its advantages. The patient will be more satisfied, because it will be clearer to him or her what can be expected. An organization will also spend less time solving short-term problems. This reduces pressure on the employees. And helps save costs. We applied small-scale process optimization in a hospital's OR, which resulted in a saving of hundreds of thousands of euros.

Estimating the amount of time you spend per patient is, of course, more difficult than when manufacturing industrial products. While you can know exactly how long it will take to screw on a hubcap, the difference per patient in the care industry is much greater. On the other hand, there is a lot of data available in the care industry. Therefore, it is not too difficult to cluster patients on the basis of that data.

It does mean, however, that other care providers need to look differently at patients. From an individual patient to an abstract patient. This is a strange concept for professionals working in the care industry; they are used to looking at what the best treatment would be for each individual patient. But this works differently when planning processes, and this will ultimately improve the quality of care.

Because, at the end of the day, I was the only one dissatisfied after my appointment with the doctor about my lower back. If my appointment had overrun, more people would have been dissatisfied.

Do you also want better processes in the care industry?
Freek Aertsen is lecturer of the One Day Master Class Lean Operations in Care, which TIAS organizes together with care news website Skipr. This master class focuses on the optimization and finance of the care (production) process, on the one hand, and the assurance of quality and customer intimacy which a healthcare facility requires, on the other hand.

More information about this master class

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