In today’s healthcare environment of declining reimbursements, increased scrutiny by compliance bodies, and growth of outside competition, it has never been more important than now for a radiology practice to maintain operational efficiency. Whether you have your Six Sigma Green Belt certification or not, this can be done by conducting regular reviews of departmental processes in your practice. Successful radiology practices have embraced the idea of continual improvement to ensure that they are operating at the “top of their game”.
Here are four steps your organization can follow to optimize your radiology workflow:
- Observe and record your organization’s “touch points” in chronological order
“Touch points” are defined as human to human, human to system, or system to system interactions. Start by capturing each department in a step by step list.
Capture each step that occurs from the time a referring physician requests an imaging examination for a new patient. Make sure you capture the specifics of each workflow step. For example, the following would be considered four (4) “touch points”: Front desk staff completes patient registration information, creates the appointment for the appropriate imaging order, scans in paper based request, and notifies the patient via phone.
- Create flowcharts to visualize your findings
Flowcharts will allow your organization to evaluate the part of your workflow that crosses departments. Swim lane flow charts are a common type that is used.
In the accompanying example, the vertical direction or swim lane represents an organizational role involved in the overall process. Arrows between the lanes represent how information or material is passed between the subprocess roles.
Do not forget to include your systems to system “touch points” in this evaluation. An example would be “RIS system sends HL7 Order Message to PACS environment”.
- Identify opportunities for improvement.
Through the involvement of your staff, vendor partners, and industry peers, identify the areas where your organization could make changes that improve patient satisfaction, reduce operational cost, and fully utilize your current technology investments.
Prior to implementing any changes be sure to contact your technology vendors to see if they are leveraging the full capabilities of their system. In addition, find out what features are being added in the newer releases.
For example, would your current system allow your practice to eliminate the need for paper based patient forms by implementing an electronic document workflow? This would result in a reduced cost on printing and paper supply, in addition to streamlining workflow, because all documents are available online.
- Prioritize and start implementing
Possible changes should be prioritized by evaluating variables like cost, time, required resources, and risk, to name a few. By evaluating each with the same set of variables, your organization is able to make an informed decision. Develop a plan, set dates, and follow up check points and you are on your way.
The end goal of this entire process is to make your organization nimble and sustain its presence in the market. Winston Churchill, in a just a few words, captured the spirit, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”.
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