Process Management in Health Care — an Underestimated Asset

Why are certain carmakers able to assemble a small car in just a few hours? (Source: Wikipedia)? And why, in comparison, does it often take just as long to admit a patient to the hospital? The difference is that processes are synchronized, standardized, and (partially) automated in the former, but not in the latter at this time. Yet it would be important to establish consistent process management, especially in such an essential area as health care, to optimize processes and improve the patient journey.

Process management has the task of controlling, organizing, and managing business processes. The goal is to structure and adapt business processes so that workflows are synchronized with the company’s orientation and the needs of stakeholders and customers (Source: Gaitanides, M.)The implementation of process management in the health care sector is currently being pursued with varying degrees of success ranging from “non-existent” to “a vital component of the corporate strategy.”

The health care industry is divided into two camps over this issue. On the one hand, there are organizations (hospitals, public health service [PHS]) whose structures and processes have evolved historically and sometimes prove to be extremely complex. On the other hand, there are profitable companies (pharmaceutical companies, health insurers) for which efficiency enhancement and business process optimization are an inherent survival strategy in a highly competitive market.

While the latter have long been using various forms and characteristics of process management, no comprehensive implementation of process management, especially in the areas of hospital care and public health services, is discernible. In the hospital sector, there are indeed some success stories related to process management that have led to increased patient satisfaction, reduced waiting times, and lowered costs (Sources: SignavioCelonis).

Advantages of good process management

Particularly in the health care sector, where the correct execution of work processes is decisive for the health or even the life of the individual (in hospitals) or entire population groups (public health department), it would be desirable to strive for process efficiency such as that found in the automotive industry. Good process management pays off in this respect.

Properly executed process management has fundamentally positive effects on the key aspects relevant to corporate success:

1. Time and costs:

The optimization of processes along with the avoidance of redundancies and errors and of the inefficient use of resources reduces throughput times and costs.

2. Quality: 

Uniform documentation and clear process descriptions reduce errors in the process flow. This prevents treatment errors in the hospital or processing errors in the PHS, just to mention two examples. Having these features in place assures work performance in compliance with defined quality standards. The measurability and standardization of processes are effective means for the identification and realization of potential for improvement, e.g., via process mining.

3. Revenue:

Coordinated use of resources (e.g., beds or medical equipment) reduces idle time and unused capital. The optimized utilization of the available resources allows a maximized “return on investment” for each technical, human, or material resource.

4. Strategy:

Process management should coordinate processes so that they are aligned with the corporate strategy. This helps to avoid workflows, actions, or decisions that deviate from strategy or that may be harmful.

Process management also has inherent potential for a positive influence on work culture, occupational safety, team building, and future viability.

1. Increased traceability:

Owing to standardization, the associated reproducibility, and the uniform (graphical) documentation, processes are at all times traceable and measurable by various KPIs.

2. Better collaboration:

A clear depiction of processes and responsibilities helps to improve collaboration between different departments and teams, increasing efficiency and productivity.

3. Compliance:

Process management and the standardization of processes are required for consistent compliance with legal requirements and internal guidelines. Observance of prescribed processes reduces various risks since certain treatment procedures, hygiene measures, documentation requirements, etc. are followed more closely.

4. Digitalization:

The standardization of processes and of the execution of workflows immediately reveals processes with high potential for digitalization. These processes can be (partially) automated with the aid of suitable technologies, resulting in turn in further positive effects on time, costs, quality, traceability, and compliance.

For a better patient experience

Besides the direct impact on the organization and employee satisfaction, all of these factors lead to an immense improvement in the patient experience. The following example of the emergency room at a hospital in Germany can illustrate this (Quelle: Celonis).

The workflows in an emergency room are often determined by the heterogeneity of patient volume. Patient admissions and the triage process are not carried out according to a defined standard procedure, which can lead to faulty workflows and miscommunication among staff — and long waiting times for patients. In addition, there is often a lack of adequate technical tools for the correct recording of patient data, which complicates documentation, traceability, and classification according to the critical nature of cases.

Consistent process management that takes into account previous processes can be of assistance here. By documenting and unambiguously mapping processes, disruptive factors can be eliminated and optimization potential can be mined. Training staff in triage and patient admission procedures can also standardize the work performance. Technical optimization using suitable systems allows faster and more efficient patient admission and classification of the criticality of specific cases, significantly reducing waiting times and minimizing the probability of errors.

In terms of customer centricity, process management can make an important contribution to improving patient care and treatment quality in the health care industry. A goal that not only results in a better patient experience, but also literally saves lives.

Thanks to the co-author Mohammed Moussa!