Overcoming Pandemic Challenges with Lean Six Sigma

November 17, 2021

by Cj Pettus

A group of physicians and administrators overcame pandemic challenges with Lean Six Sigma tools from the Nexus Green Belt course.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted nearly every part of society, and healthcare systems were on the frontlines of the uncertainty. In California, a group of physicians and administrators at one health system knew they had to make adjustments. With the guidance of Nexus instructors, they were able to use Lean Six Sigma methodology to find solutions.

To earn a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification, course participants complete a process improvement project outside of class. Two groups from the California healthcare system joined the online Lean Six Sigma Green Belt for Healthcare program during the pandemic. In the course, they learned how to systematically frame problems, collect and analyze data productively, and implement sustainable solutions. With their new tools from the course, both groups were ready to start their required projects. The COVID-19 pandemic presented plenty of project opportunities.

Expanding COVID-19 Testing

Early in the pandemic, this healthcare system began administering COVID-19 tests to patients. Initially, they tested fewer than 30 outpatients per day. Testing kits were limited at that point. Several months later, however, they were asked to increase their daily testing capacity to 300 patients per day.

This was a dramatic leap, but the Lean Six Sigma course participants knew what to do. Using the Lean tools and methods they learned in class, the team analyzed the different aspects of the COVID-19 testing program. They used their analysis to create a budget and plans for a community testing site, which they presented to the county.

The county reviewed the plan and thought it was too expensive.

However, this wasn’t a problem for the team. With budget in mind, they reevaluated and found ways to eliminate waste and adjust their approach. The county accepted the revised plan, and the healthcare system successfully put it into action. Because of the team’s Lean Six Sigma knowledge, the testing site met the targets at a significantly reduced cost compared to their original plan. Thousands of residents in the county were able to get necessary testing.

Improving the Call Center Response

And that was not the only way that the health system overcame pandemic challenges with Lean Six Sigma tools. A second group from the company also participated in the online Green Belt course, and they saw an opportunity to improve their pandemic response. For their project, they focused on the patient call center experience. As patients dealt with concerns, symptoms, and questions about COVID-19, the volume of calls surged. Timely response was key, but the call center was not able to help patients as quickly as was needed. Worried patients were not receiving the information they wanted, and tired call center workers were struggling to keep up with the demand.

The team knew that they could improve the experience using Lean Six Sigma principles. When they worked to define the problem, they discovered that the existing processes were decentralized. This resulted in long wait times, errors, and inconsistencies. They mapped out various solutions and eventually evaluated one that they thought might work. The plan would minimize additional expenses, upgrade training opportunities, and improve the patient experience.

After the healthcare system implemented the plan, the call center was able to return more than 90% of patient calls within 24 hours. Additionally, they reduced instances where patient concerns were not addressed or resulted in a complaint from 26% to 8%. Provider involvement was also reduced from 40% to 13% 

The team was happy to see that the plan worked—and not just for the duration of the pandemic. Although these results were important for responding to COVID-19, the systems that the team put in place improved the process overall. Beyond the pandemic, patients will continue to have a better call center experience, and the next surge in calls will be manageable for the staff.

Because of the training from Nexus, this group of physicians and administrators overcame pandemic challenges with Lean Six Sigma methodology. The two Green Belt projects benefited patients, community members, staff, and more during an incredibly stressful and difficult time for the healthcare system. Even in the midst of uncertainty, the tools from a Lean Six Sigma course can have positive and lasting real-world application.



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