Friday, June 29, 2012

Moving Quality Beyond Product

In his latest blog posted in June, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski is looking for success stories of moving quality beyond product. I have strong views about the necessity of high quality not only in products, but also in service. The reason is that, like many of you, I'm the type of person who looks for quality products, but if the service is not up to par, I may not ever purchase anything from there again.

I started my career in quality in the manufacturing world. Looking at non-conformances, customer complaints, defects, machine capability, etc. All about products basically. As I gained more experience, I was assigned several projects to reduce warranty cost and improve customer service. I saw a lot of inefficiencies and errors in processes caused by the lack of attention to customer service. Personnel were trying to do their best to make customers happy and satisfied, but they were struggling with not having the tools and resources to do their job especially related to technical knowledge and policies.

After I transitioned to healthcare, my focus has been nothing but service improvement. Hospitals are all about patient satisfaction and achieving service excellence is a number one priority. It is quite challenging due to the complexity of the organization, but it can be done. There are numerous project initiatives happening simultaneously and every one of them requires cross-functional involvement, collaboration and commitment. I can give you an example of a project that I'm currently working on. It is called "Patient Satisfaction Improvement Project" involving a Med/Surg unit. Hospitals are measured against each other on patient satisfaction. HCAHPS is a government initiative to provide a standardized survey instrument to measure patients' perspective on hospital care. Besides monetary incentives, the most important goal for hospitals is to continually provide and measure service quality. If this doesn't exist, there won't be any patients and thus, no revenue. There are several factors associated with patient satisfaction such as nurse communication, staff responsiveness, hospital environment and pain management. All of these factors involve people, people and people. It is quite different than machining parts, but same quality and process improvement tools apply, except slightly modified. In order to improve patient experience, I find it useful to utilize root cause analysis techniques, process mapping, observations and a few simple statistical tools. Coaching and mentoring staff on understanding patients' needs, changing behavior and embracing continuous improvement is also very important. Hospital staff is always busy 24-7. People sometimes forget to take a step back and think about how their service has been that day or if they could do anything different. This is the reason why  it is critical to set-up an hour or so every week to get everyone together, assess current state and take advantage of process improvement methodologies. We cannot ignore the fact that patients/customers/clients have the option to choose. Whoever provides quality products as well as excellent service will always be the winner.