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Hospitals need systems engineering to reduce waits

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Marty Stempniak, writing for Hospitals & Health Networks, comments on an Institute of Medicine report on those exasperating healthcare wait times, citing his own hospital ER misadventure.

He writes: “{E}ven in this new world of consumer-focused, value-based healthcare, patients are still waiting for hours on end to receive treatment. A new study from the Institute of Medicine, released last week, found that wait times vary dramatically across the healthcare sector, with patients experiencing a gap of anywhere between a few hours to a few months to get an appointment with a doctor.”

Gary Kaplan, who chaired  the committee that produced the report and is CEO of Virginia Mason Health System in Washington state, urges healthcare organizations to look to  industries with rigorous systems approaches — such as manufacturing and hospitality — to better deliver care — when and where patients want it.

“{I}t does require us to be willing to use these systems-engineering principles to understand supply and demand, and then design our systems to have adequate capacity for true demand of services,” he said.


Mr.  Stempniak summarizes the IOM report’s  six principles to address this problem:

  1. “Supply-demand matching through formal ongoing evaluation.
  2. “Immediate engagement and exploration of patient concerns at the time of inquiry.
  3. “Patient preference on timing and nature of care invited at the time of inquiry.
  4. “Need-tailored care with reliable, acceptable alternatives to doctor visits (i.e., telehealth and electronic consultations).
  5. “Surge contingencies in place to ensure timely accommodation of needs.
  6. “Continuous assessment of changing circumstances in each care setting.”



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