Thursday, November 22, 2012

Applying Six Sigma To Improve Diagnostic Imaging

The healthcare industry is ripe with opportunities for Six Sigma methodologies to be applied. Quality medical attention is a worldwide concern, and as more countries look for ways to improve and streamline their healthcare systems, the Six Sigma approach to effective management is being adopted in several hospitals, clinics, medical offices, and diagnostic centers. If there is any way to make medical care more available, then it is a good idea.

Healthcare centers and institutions that have operated under the ideas of Total Quality Management and Quality Control for many years are starting to look toward Six Sigma as a potential solution to their issues. Populations in many nations are aging, and this has hindered the availability and quality of medical care, especially when it comes to the satisfaction of patients and the operating costs of medical centers. The increasing number of patients and the mounting medical costs for both patients and medical centers is a major concern among those who work in healthcare.

Diagnostic imaging and radiology are two practice areas within healthcare that administrators often seek to improve in terms of delivery cycles. A fine-tuned diagnostic imaging system in a medical facility is essential to delivering holistic patient care. Some of the problems that radiology departments often run into include: overwhelming numbers of pending appointments, bottlenecks, unmanageable traffic, and staff members who are stretched too thin. The cumulative effects and incremental improvements of Six Sigma are tailor-made for diagnostic imaging, a process that can't be simply stopped for overhauling.

Applying Six Sigma approaches to the healthcare industry is essentially just like using the Hippocratic approach to garnering a bunch of data and making a medical diagnosis. There are five phases involved. These include defining the problem, doing measurements, analyzing the data, making improvements, and having some control. Each of these phases can easily be assimilated by healthcare professionals and managers. The concepts behind Six Sigma have been applied to major institutions in both the United States and in other developed countries.

One of the problems that overwhelmed diagnostic imaging centers face is that 20 to 30 percent of the exams they perform aren't always necessary. Physicians can easily fall into repetitive patterns of ordering imaging tests for their patients, thereby encumbering radiology departments and exposing patients to higher levels of radiation. Such a problem was faced by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) until it decided to deploy a Six Sigma solution. The Minnesota DHS now utilizes a software tool which deploys a decision-making process prior to ordering a diagnostic imaging exam. Based on a score provided by the software tool, health care professionals can determine whether a diagnostic imaging test is actually needed.

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