Applying Lean Techniques to Improve the Patient Scheduling Process
Journal for Healthcare Quality
Healthcare resources are in great demand. Patients often have to wait long periods of time before being seen by physicians or other medical providers. It is easy to assume that this is now just a fact of life and that there is little we can do to change things. However, a careful examination of the processes that we take for granted can reveal powerful opportunities to improve the waste and inefficiencies that are so frustrating for patients, employees, and medical providers. The process of
... duling patients in a medical specialty clinic is of vital importance to the patient and practitioner. Often, this contact forms the basis of the patient's first impression of a facility and provider. Patients want to be seen promptly by physicians or other providers who are familiar with their diagnoses or problems, while practitioners want a system capable of efficiently triaging patients. The intermediaries between the patient and the practitioner are the schedulers or the clinic coordinator. These individuals must be sympathetic, capable, and flexible as they interact with patients or referring physicians. Furthermore, they require the tools and autonomy in order to meet the needs of individual patients and schedule them in the correct clinic or with the most appropriate provider. Providers and patients rely on this system to be efficient and cost-effective, yet, in many cases, it is not. A review of patient satisfaction surveys from our outpatient sports medicine clinic revealed that many of our patients were dissatisfied with our scheduling system and experienced long delays in scheduling. The providers felt that the system suited their needs and functioned quite well; they did not realize how inefficient it was. Our patients' concerns provided the impetus for us to review and improve our scheduling process. We used the principles of lean thinking (Womack & Jones, 2003) to accomplish this.