Most healthcare organizations are faced with the need to increase operational efficiency and staff productivity. We reviewed some key client experiences related to standardizing the policies, practices, processes, procedures and structures that define how tasks are completed and by whom. In this Lessons Learned, we will be sharing how to leverage the value of work simplification. 

Work simplification is a proven method for increasing staff productivity and reducing costs. There are complete methodologies that an organization can embrace to pursue a work simplification initiative. In this Lessons Learned, we will be sharing three selected best practices that we have used to produce tangible business benefits with our clients: 

  1. Eliminate non-value work – every work activity or task necessary to accomplish the outcome of the process and overall work effort provides value. 
  2. Reduce hand-offs – the more individuals and/or departments involved in completing a single process or work effort, the more it slows down the process. 
  3. Eliminate decision points – each time there is a decision point in a process, multiple paths of work result from it, creating complexity in the process. 

Our assistance to a wide range of healthcare organizations has shown us the importance of utilizing strong tools and for work simplification, the tool is a business process model. Before you begin any work simplification exercise, develop a business process model that reflects each of the work steps, decision points and hand-offs to accomplish the purpose of the process. The process model should reflect the various job positions engaged in the work steps as well as describe the use of enabling information technology. With the process model documented, one is now ready to embark upon a work simplification exercise that embodies the following three key learnings. 

  • Eliminate non-value work - All work effort should be associated with meeting a need of a customer, whether internal or external. Once the customer and need are known, evaluate each work step within the process model to determine whether it adds value to the process by accomplishing the ultimate objective of the process. In other words, if a particular work step was not accomplished, would the process’ output be diminished? One of our health plan clients asked process customers to assess and validate the team’s assignment of value to each step in the proposed process model. If the customer questioned the value of any step, the simplification team had to rework the process model to eliminate the step(s) not adding value. 
  • Reduce hand-offs - As you analyze the business process model, identify the number of departments or functions and different job positions engaged in the completion of the process’ work steps. Hand-offs between staff and departments contribute to delays and misinterpretation of unique requirements associated with the work. For complex transactions, hand-offs may require the receiving job position to spend time establishing the proper level of understanding to complete the work. Excessive hand-offs require multiple staff members to journey up the ‘learning curve’ related to the work presented to them. Solutions to reducing hand-offs are redefining the scope of work and responsibilities of job positions and reorganizing the order and flow of the work within the process. In one acute care hospital client, we worked with clinic staff to redesign job roles to reduce the number of different staff engaged in the all of the administrative processes necessary before a patient would see a clinician. Patient satisfaction scores increased dramatically after the new job roles were implemented, and the clinic’s administration was able to document a reduction in miscommunication events and wait time for patients (clinic throughput increased as a result). 
  • Eliminate decision points –Business process flows become complex when multiple decisions need to be made within the process or process flows. Many times these decisions are simple and straightforward, but they create multiple paths in the flow by introducing one or more potential routes for the work to travel. The process complexity increases the intricacy of the job positions involved and contributes to slowing down the process. Look for opportunities to get decisions made at the beginning of the process flow and by the ultimate customer of the process. A healthcare provider organization client determined that many of their decision points involved multiple levels of review. To solve for this, the client created a mechanism to more clearly define the expected outcome of the process and to ensure alignment by all interested parties to this outcome at the initiation of the process. 

* * * * * 

Work simplification is a powerful tool to increase operational efficiency, improve staff productivity, reduce cycle or delivery times and improve customer satisfaction. If you haven’t utilized work simplification in the past, select a narrow scope of work as your trial effort.