Healthcare HR’s Role in Continuous Improvement

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There’s always room for improvement, especially when it comes to healthcare processes and patient care. A continuous improvement strategy can have a significant impact on patient outcomes and your organization’s bottom line. Intermountain Healthcare measured the impact of a continuous improvement strategy on their spending and cut costs by 13%, a $700 million savings in 2016 alone.

“For healthcare organizations to drive results and enhance their culture, it's important to look at organizational redesign in the lens of continuous improvement,” says Justin Morley, System Vice President of Continuous Improvement at SSM Health

Human resources and performance improvement teams can work together to develop a continuous improvement architecture at your organization. Here’s how.

Align Goals Across Departments

The first step to continuous improvement is establishing an overall vision and orienting individual departmental goals toward it. But aligning goals across departments doesn’t mean giving each department the same goal. Goals that are too broad can hurt engagement. Different but more meaningful goals can drive engagement and support a closer alignment with overall goals. Work with executives and department heads to develop aligned goals.

“The details behind the vision and goals setting is different but more meaningful,” Morley says. For example, say your broad goal is to reduce employee injury rates by 10%. But if the analytics department only had two injuries all last year, what does that goal mean to them? Instead of having the same goal, the analytics department can find trends in employee injury causes and suggest interventions.

Set Benchmarks for Success

Next, set precise standards for what success looks like for each goal. You can’t know whether you’re improving without benchmarks for success. Team members need concrete goals to work toward. “If we don't know our fall rate or our turnaround time in the lab, for example, it’s difficult for a team to be engaged and aligned to what matters,” Morley says.

Work with performance improvement teams to develop benchmarks for success. Empower each team with a line of sight to how their work fits into the organization’s continuous improvement goals. Team members should point to how their tracking measures each week align with the organization’s overall goals. With effective measures in place, you’ll be able to track trends in improvement.

Gather Ideas From the Front Lines

An essential step in the continuous improvement process is soliciting feedback from front line workers. When you notice areas that aren’t improving, ask employees who work in that department for improvement suggestions. “High-performing organizations will collect 25 to 30 ideas per person per year,” Morley says. “It’s just incredible to think about the rate of change healthcare could achieve.” 

Your front line workers interact with patients, customers, and communities regularly and are uniquely suited for coming up with practical, creative, and meaningful solutions. “We’ll see executives solving the big multiyear strategic initiatives and front line teams solving the day to day,” Morley says. Empower individual teams to take ownership of and implement new ideas for process improvements in their departments. Processes that are successful in one department could be adapted to improve processes in other departments, so your teams are also empowered to improve.

Remove Barriers to Success

Finally, set a cadence of regular check-ins from executives to see where improvements are bottlenecking. The C-suite’s primary role in continuous improvement is measuring the first three steps’ impact and removing barriers to success. Facilitate regular check-ins, and give leaders a chance to tap into ideas from the front lines that could be effective in other parts of the organization.

“When leaders are consistently present in the right areas, great things happen,” Morley says.

These four steps also provide a practical blueprint for clinical leaders, who are often promoted for being good clinicians and may need a leadership framework to succeed.

As the name implies, continuous improvement is ongoing, allowing you to build agility into your daily operations, so you’re always improving.