Improving Outcomes by Simplifying and Standardizing Processes Systemwide
Healthcare has been trending toward standardized care, but the thought is often met with skepticism and concern regarding “cookbook medicine.” “When care standardization first started in the '90s there was a great deal of resistance,” says Dr. Kate Tulenko, CEO of Corvus Health. “This stemmed from a misunderstanding of the fact that even with guidelines you can have justified variances.”
There are distinct benefits to standardization, however — and not just in relation to clinical practice. Standardizing processes and operations system-wide can improve functionality and patient outcomes.
HR can play a pivotal role in supporting the standardization process. In a complex health system, it’s important to unify HR processes such as hiring, payroll and people management. But HR’s support can offer critical strategic value when standardizing processes across the organization.
Here are three ways HR can help ensure process standardization throughout your healthcare system.
Standardize HR Processes
HR sets the stage for any healthcare organization’s success — HR practitioners play a critical role in curating organizational talent. But HR’s role could be more strategic. “Standardization starts with the hiring process,” says Alam Hallan, Director of Pharmacy at Guelph General Hospital. “Often, once HR selects candidates, each department does its own hiring. This can result in widely different hiring practices.”
Interview questions, for example, should be similar across departments. HR knows the types of questions that should be asked to assess candidates, so it should be involved in the interview process — or at least in curating the questions.
HR can also play a role in an often-overlooked aspect of talent acquisition — internal hiring. “Candidates who are looking to move or change roles typically don’t have recourse to it at their organization,” Hallam says. “They end up leaving. HR can play a huge role in standardizing internal mobility.”
Standardize Departmental Processes
In large health systems that house multiple physicians, there are bound to be differences in processes and culture. This has the potential to become toxic if departments have opposing viewpoints or processes. HR can play a more active role in standardizing organizational culture and process norms, Hallam says.
“Having as many cultures as there are departments in an organization can be detrimental,” he says. “HR can help in identifying and hiring for a standardized set of values system-wide.”
There is leeway for variation within departments, but HR can help to prioritize what’s non-negotiable and what can be customized. “Standardization can seem impersonal and make individuals feel like they don't matter or could be easily replaced,” Tulenko says. “To combat this, consider allowing a team to put their own stamp and personality into non-critical processes, like decorating their department for the holidays.”
Standardize Clinical Processes
The practice of medicine is generally smoother when clinical processes are standardized. HR can be proactive in proposing more holistic standardizations. When standardizing room layouts, for example, HR is familiar with the range of employees who interact with any given space. It can play a strategic role in looking at standardization on a higher level. “HR can be proactive in such things as the importance of enabling the work environment,” Tulenko says. “They can provide a strategic perspective on standardized care.”
Standardized clinical processes also lead to more efficient people management. For example, a doctor and nurse who have never even met can know what to expect from each other during their interactions. Standardized patient pathways can also prevent friction in employee interactions. “If there are guidelines in place for when to release a patient, for example, the patient can still be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” Tulenko says. “But having the benchmark in place will mitigate disagreements among medical staff.”