Opportunities for Improvement

Taking a Total Quality Management Approach to Healthcare Success

You don’t need to be told that the medical profession is constantly changing – it’s all around you. Medical advances, changes in technology, and the constantly shifting landscape of healthcare reform are changes you can’t escape. Many practitioners are apprehensive about the bottom line impact of changes they can’t control.

But if you focus on areas you can control, change can bring a positive result to your business performance.

Just as having highly skilled practitioners and access to the latest equipment can help you provide the best patient care, having a quality-focused culture and access to the latest data can help you enhance your business performance. Total Quality Management (TQM) aims to optimize all of the above.

TQM is one of the ways your organization can continually do better to stay ahead of the competition. This customer-focused approach centers around continual improvement of business operations with a focus on the patient and employee experience. It seeks to improve the quality of products and services by empowering employees and holding them accountable throughout the process.

Taking this approach can help you identify opportunities to improve many areas of your organization, from patient safety standards to greater administrative controls.

The key to TQM is making it an ongoing process in your business, one that never stops. In fact, it has to become an ingrained part of your daily culture to really work. It’s important for everyone on staff to buy into the approach. That means doctors, nurses, management, support staff, the IT team – even the evening cleaning crew. It requires a total team effort.

TQM can help you improve not only patient experience and outcomes, but also the bottom line of your business.

Start with a baseline to measure success

Before TQM can drive results, you first have to establish a baseline for your operation. You cannot improve what you cannot measure.

Your business has stockpiled a wealth of information — a stash that grows daily. The vast amount of data in your IT systems can reveal just about everything important about your organization, including patient-related data trends, such as the most common medical conditions your patients exhibit or the average length of wait time on the phone to book an appointment or speak to a representative.

Your data can also help you to serve individual patients more effectively and assist in decision support initiatives. For example, you can spot trends in a patient’s medical history and help prevent problems by alerting him or her to potential future issues, like adult-onset diabetes, while there is still time for prevention.

Likewise, you can use data to spot trends in your operations and measure the health of your business, across departments and service lines. Do you know which location sees the most demand at specific times on specific days? Or which services are most profitable? Do you have a good handle on all of your direct, fixed and variable costs? Understanding where you stand provides opportunities to reduce expenses, improve profitability and grow your organization.

With total quality management, the focus should be on improving quality of service through the patient experience and employee experience. Management can empower employees to make better decisions by creating transparency and accountability, and by setting clear expectations for performance (which may evolve as roles change and the business grows).

Address obstacles to TQM and use data to identify opportunities

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to TQM is resistance to change. Senior leadership has to set the tone and spell out expectations for all employees. It’s not easy to shift organizational culture, but it is necessary for getting everyone on board. Therefore, change management is critical to successful implementation of the TQM approach.

Another significant hurdle that can stand in the way of TQM adoption is limited access to the data needed for creating transparency and accountability. As mentioned above, it’s important to establish a baseline and track metrics on an ongoing basis; however, when information exists in silos, this can be a challenging undertaking. Healthcare organizations often find it difficult to analyze information holistically because data may be locked in different systems, which may not be integrated and therefore may not be accessible to all who need it.

Those separate sources of information, along with direct and indirect feedback from patients themselves, need to be brought together to provide a more complete picture of your business. Only then can you truly see what your strengths and weaknesses are, which areas can be improved to better serve patients, and where potential threats to your organization might arise.

For example, potential improvements could range from something as simple as providing warm blankets in the pre-operative holding area to pre-registering patients to reduce wait times or, more ambitiously, improving outcomes for cardiology patients between 40 and 60 years old.

Create a culture of continuous improvement

Once you have access to the data and you have decided how you will measure success (i.e., what metrics are most important to your organization), you can start to implement, track, measure, and report those data points in a way that is open and understandable for the entire staff. Remember, TQM requires all members of the organization to be on board and involved in improving processes, services, and the overall culture.

Consequently, it’s in management’s best interest to share knowledge related to performance results and quality of service with staff at all levels, to reinforce the organization’s mission and goals, and to align employees with the vision for continuous improvement. The information should be shared on a periodic basis to show ongoing progress.

Change does not happen overnight, but it is possible to start building a customer-focused culture that strives for continuous improvement. Having the right metrics in place and sharing that information will help you to hold employees accountable throughout the process.

A total quality management approach enables you to make continual improvements that benefit your patients, staff and your business. An experienced healthcare consultant can advise you on implementing this approach.

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