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Six Sigma And Healthcare

Aug 17, 2007
Six Sigma methodologies aim at improving overall quality by eliminating defects and achieving near perfection by restricting the number of possible defects to less than 3.4 defects per million. Six Sigma methodologies were originally developed for implementation in the manufacturing sector but with time their use has spread to the services sector as well. In the services sector, Six Sigma concepts are used mainly for eliminating transactional errors.

Today, the concepts and methodologies of 6-Sigma are increasingly being used in the healthcare industry for improving the quality of services rendered, increasing efficiency, and eliminating human errors that can often prove fatal. However, the use of 6-Sigma in the healthcare industry is a relatively new phenomenon as compared to other service industries that have undergone some type of data-supported, systematic, quality-improvement process. With medical and technological advancements, the demand and expectations for improved medical care are continuously increasing. However, due to lack of effective management systems, inefficiency is increasing, which often leads to congested emergency rooms, customer complaints, and lost revenues.


Six Sigma concepts and methods enable a healthcare organization to offer improved healthcare services to patients by streamlining business processes. In the healthcare industry, the quality of services rendered depends a lot on human skills, which is often very difficult to measure and control. 6-Sigma is effective as it is based on a comprehensive approach that focuses on improving both human as well as transactional aspects of a process. Although implementing Six Sigma concepts in the healthcare industry is a challenging task, it does help in getting quick results.

In the healthcare industry, the factors that determine the quality and efficiency are usually the flow of information and interaction between people. Six Sigma helps in streamlining the flow of information and achieving strategic business results by initiating cultural shifts all throughout the organization. 6-Sigma focuses on improving processes rather than just concentrating on the task, which helps in increasing the scope of improvements. It provides the necessary tools and methodologies that help in analyzing and transforming human performance, necessary for achieving significant long-term improvements.


Six Sigma helps in defining a vision for the future, identifying specific goals, and establishing quantitative measures for turning that vision into reality. It helps in formulating goal plans and setting timelines for moving from current performance levels to Six Sigma performance levels. The plans are defined only after documenting their effects on the organization's work processes' that may include flow of information, surgical site procedures, handling patients, and others.

The basic requirements for successfully implementing Six Sigma programs are usually long-term vision, commitment, leadership, management, and training. It is important to provide the requisite training to doctors, nurses, and the administrative staff for making them aware about the various concepts and methodologies. The training may initially appear to be expensive, but is often worth the cost when one considers the benefits such as improved quality of services and increased efficiency. It is necessary for employees working in a healthcare organization to develop an understanding about the various Six Sigma concepts. This will help them in integrating new techniques into the Six Sigma processes for improving quality and effectiveness.
About the Author
Tony Jacowski is a quality analyst for The MBA Journal. Aveta Solution's Six Sigma Online offers online six sigma training and certification classes for lean six sigma, black belts, green belts, and yellow belts.
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