October 20, 2011

The Value of Understanding Your Process

by Lean Fox

process mapping-swim lane

I am always surprised how much you can learn by mapping the work flows you manage. Over the past several weeks I have been spending time with various Healthcare Leaders mapping their processes as they prepare to introduce an electronic medical record (EMR) to their organization. For this engagement we decided to map the patient experience using swim lane maps. A swim lane map or diagram is a good tool to map a process flow and identify potential problem areas that need to be corrected.

A map of your process can be useful in several ways. First, it clarifies each team member’s role and responsibilities, including direct patient interaction and behind-the-scenes activities. This answers questions such as “Who is responsible for walking the patient back to a bed?” or “Who should call patients with their test results?”

Second, it helps reveal problem areas and targets for improvements. This is critical when you are implementing an EMR. To ensure a smooth (well smoother than expected) deployment you need to first understand your current state – warts and all, before moving to the future state. For example, this mapping approach shows visually where hand-offs occur in the process. This is where lack of coordination and communication can cause process problems. When we started documenting the lane changes, I heard, “wait that doesn’t happen during our shift. We do it differently.” Or another response heard often was, “why do you ask those questions again during discharge? We ask those questions when the patient first arrives. We have to ask again, because not all the correct information is being collected at the beginning.” Missed data, wrong data, rework and delays in the process become painfully clear when laid out in a swim lane map.

Our healthcare clients have come to truly appreciate the process of mapping the patient experience using the swim lane. The map is a great change management tool as well. It clearly illustrates that providing patient care is a team effort, thus creating a shared need and vision for change!

If you would like additional information about this approach, please drop me a note.


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