Ophthalmologists serve an increasing volume of a growing elderly population undergoing increasingly complex outpatient medical care, including extensive diagnostic testing and treatment. The resulting prolonged patient visit times (“patient flow
times”) limit quality, patient and employee satisfaction, and represent waste. Lean Six Sigma process improvement
was used in a vitreoretinal practice to decrease patient flow
time, demonstrating that this approach can yield significant improvement in health care.
Process flow maps were created to determine the most common care pathways within clinic. Three months' visits from the electronic medical record system, which tracks patient task times at each process step in the office were collected. Care tasks and care pathways consuming the greatest time and variation were identified and modified. Follow-up analysis from 6 weeks' visits was conducted to assess improvement.
Nearly all patients took one of five paths through the office. Patient flow
was redesigned to reduce waiting room time by having staff members immediately start patients into one of those five paths; staffing was adjusted to address high demand tasks, and scheduling was optimized around derived predictors of patient flow
times. Follow-up analysis revealed a statistically significant decline in mean patient flow
time by 18% and inpatient flow time SD by 4.6%. Patient and employee satisfaction scores improved.
Manufacturing industry techniques, such as Lean
and Six Sigma
, can be used to improve patient care, minimize waste, and enhance patient and staff satisfaction in outpatient clinics.