Thursday, March 3, 2011

OE career move: Making the transition to a healthcare environment

 Because more and more process improvement professionals will start to move from non-healthcare roles (i.e. manufacturing and service) I thought I would give you my perspective on what it’s like on “the other side”. 

As you might suspect healthcare is a much more people centric environment. How could it be otherwise?  Although there are a fair share of selfish SOB’s in healthcare most of the folks are not here for the stock options (they don’t exist in non-profits) they are here because they want to help people and serve the community. That attitude is a double edge sword. On one hand it’s great to work with caring folks but on the other it’s the excuse many give to avoid change – “I’m here for the patient; you can’t standardize what I do”.     

In healthcare much of the work done regarding process improvement is openly shared.  The sources of this information vary, coming from organizations dedicated to process improvement like the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) but it is also readily available on healthcare websites and journals.  I have found that most of the authors are very willing to talk about their projects and give advice. This is a great source of knowledge that you must tap before you start a project as there are plenty of lessons learned and you can get a head start on most of your projects.  On the downside you will find a strong “we are unique” syndrome within the workforce and some groups will resist improvements even when there is proven success at a similar healthcare institutions.  I have found that emphasizing the similarities and making a few unique (often low impact) tweaks tends to satisfy the doubters.

You will not find an executive management group seeped in decades of process improvement experience.  While the landscape is slowly changing, it is not unusual to find that most of the executives have spent their entire careers with one healthcare institution and thus they need a lot of instruction about process improvement and they tend to oversimplify the effort.  You will likely find that they are either an eager sponge and absorb process improvement advice readily or they simply can’t get the concepts. Hopefully for your sake they exhibit traits of the former. 

Like in all new process improvement situations you need to start with the low hanging fruit.  In my opinion you should  start with parts of the organization that readily lend themselves to lean principals such as sterile processing (it’s very much an assembly line), or some of the administrative tasks such as billing where there are likely opportunities to reduce time and defects (such as under charging). 

I’m glad I made the transition as I think the health care industry is about 5-10 years behind other industries so the opportunities are more than abundant. Expect slow evolution versus revolution, you must have patience. Remember, this is one of the oldest professions and tradition has a strong hold.

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