A background in Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma is seen as an advantage for those who work in health informatics.

That could change soon from “advantage” to “requirement.”

In many ways, the push for Lean and Six Sigma training and certification in health informatics may resemble this decade’s initiative for all nurses to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). That started in 2010 with a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine that 80% of nurses earn a BSN (only 50% had one in 2010). Now, New York requires all nurses to earn a BSN within 10 years of becoming a registered nurse.

Things can change that fast. The same could prove the case for health IT and health informatics certification in Lean and Six Sigma.

Why? The reason is simple. It works. Time and again, applying Six Sigma-related methodologies to healthcare challenges has resulted in improvements both in operational efficiencies and patient care.

Careers For Health Informatics Professionals

Health informatics is increasingly vital to healthcare operations. The adoption of electronic healthcare records was only the first step in implementing innovative technology in healthcare. Hospitals and other medical operations now work with systems that can collect, manage and share large data sets on patients.

Jobs within the profession include:

  • Health informatics director
  • Health informatics consultant
  • Nursing informatics specialist
  • Chief medical information officer
  • Healthcare IT project manager

As can be seen from the above list, health informatics professionals work in a variety of settings. That includes nurses’ stations, IT departments, doctor’s offices and even patient’s rooms where they collect information.

In all settings, health informatics professionals gather and analyze data to support medical professionals in making clinical decisions. They also work to improve data systems and the ability to make data-driven decisions on patient care.

Part of the job also is collaborating with all departments within a medical operation to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of patient care and eliminate unnecessary expenses. This involves developing tools to measure and analyze data as well as practicing effective communication across an organization.

Clearly, Lean and Six Sigma are tailor-made to support all these efforts. That’s why having expertise in Lean and Six Sigma makes health IT and health informatics professionals even more attractive job candidates.

Lean Six Sigma and Health Informatics

Managing health informatics systems is a complex task, as is finding ways to leverage data into making a more efficient operation. Lean and Six Sigma methodologies offer ways to better manage complicated processes and systems. That’s why the healthcare industry, including health informatics, have turned to Lean and Six Sigma for guidance.

There are numerous areas of healthcare where Lean and Six Sigma offer improvements. They include cutting waste from routine operations, streamlining the billing process and improving patient care and satisfaction.

From a business standpoint, hospitals and other large medical operations (such as a group of physician clinics) face competition for patients. Smart executives know that hiring health informatics professionals with expertise in Six Sigma-related methodologies can give them an advantage.

Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare

Examples of the effective implementation of Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma in a healthcare environment are numerous.

A powerful example comes from the official journal of the American Nurses Association (ANA). A nurse at Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, Co., reported that using Six Sigma’s DMAIC tool resulted in an astounding 60% reduction in just one year of hospital-acquired pressure ulcers. In the following year, the hospital reduced the number another 30%.

DMAIC is one of the main tools in Six Sigma. The acronym stands for define, measure, analyze, improve and control.

Six Sigma focuses on eliminating errors in an operation or process. Lean focuses on cutting out waste, leaving only the functions that provide value to the end user or customer. Combining the two – Lean Six Sigma – provides a powerful approach to solving operational issues.

The Colorado hospital found Lean Six Sigma provides value in many ways. They included:

  • A focus on providing value to patients
  • Commitment from management
  • Engagement of frontline staff
  • Interdepartmental and interdisciplinary involvement
  • A structured approach
  • The reduction or elimination of errors and waste

Other Examples

McKesson, one of the first healthcare companies to adopt Six Sigma methodology, has a long list of accomplishments based on implementing the methodology.

They include reaching more than $100 million in savings, developing a proven method to identifying “profit leaks,” improved customer experience and gaining a competitive edge. Overall, the company reports transforming from a function-oriented operation to a process-oriented operation.

A recent study found an increasing number of healthcare operations are using the methodologies. They have resulted in improved patient satisfaction and more efficient operations.

Some of the areas of focus, all of which involve some aspect of health informatics, include:

  • Patient discharge and follow-up, which can reduce the number of costly re-admissions
  • Emergency services, including improved communication systems and sharing of patient data
  • Outpatient services, which leads to more use of a healthcare operation’s preventive screening and treatment services

Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma have also supported positive changes in healthcare supply chains, improved patient experience and increased efficiency in government-run healthcare agencies.

Lean Six Sigma Advantages For Health Informatics Professionals

All the above makes a compelling case for healthcare operations to use Lean and Six Sigma. But what are the advantages for health informatics and health IT professionals who earn certification in Lean Six Sigma?

The primary advantage is a better chance at getting top jobs in the field. JOJ Nursing & Health Care called nursing informatics the “future of healthcare.”  Job listings for health informatics professionals often mention that Lean and Six Sigma certification are preferred.

Lean and Six Sigma also are increasingly becoming part of the curriculum for schools that offer health informatics degrees.

Another advantage is simply being better at your job. Many professional organizations across all areas of healthcare have reached the conclusion that Lean and Six Sigma training are good for improving the quality of work in their profession. Some have recommended it for career development.

There’s a culture shift happening in healthcare, and Lean Six Sigma is part of the change. Getting training and certification in the methodologies is a smart move for health informatics professionals. Those who do so are in a position to help lead healthcare organizations into the future.

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