Supply chain tip of the day: 4 ways to promote continuous process improvement

Formalizing continuous process improvement offers hospitals numerous benefits, including an organizational commitment to excellence, reduced waste and increased operating efficiency.

"Setting internal controls and adopting a culture of continuous process improvement can lead to fewer issues and more proactive responses, allowing the supply chain time to focus on strategy," according to Christopher O'Connor, author of The Healthcare Supply Chain: Best Practices for Operating at the Intersection of Cost, Quality, and Outcomes, and the book's expert contributors from the healthcare consulting firm Nexera and its sister group purchasing organization Acurity.

Here are four prerequisites for continuous process improvement, as excerpted from the book.

1. Leadership Support: Any change in operational approach must begin at the top. Management — both organizationwide and department-specific — should focus on identifying problems and developing internal controls to avoid repeating them. The process should be clearly communicated and reinforced with the message that it is everyone's responsibility to make sure that it is followed. And everyone should follow the established process — from the top down. The example set by leadership is generally reflected in the level of staff acceptance.

2. Metrics: Information is vital to changing behavior because evidence inspires action. Using metrics can help the supply chain catch issues before they turn into problems. Ask leading questions related to departmental responsibilities (such as how much of a certain product is the hospital buying), then optimize the use of technology to pinpoint where there are opportunities for improvement. Data reviews and reports should be common practice.

3. Collaboration: The participation of internal and external stakeholders is vital to the success of continuous process improvement. Team members should be empowered to ask questions, identify issues and provide suggestions. People are more likely to comply with processes if they feel that they are part of the solution. In time, internal controls and continuous process improvement should become everyday practice. External stakeholders such as group purchasing organizations, vendors and professional associations can be good sources of information about how others have dealt with similar issues.

4. Evaluation: Just as an organization should evaluate the effectiveness of its internal controls, it should also regularly assess its dedication to continuous process improvement. This includes asking if everything possible is being done to move processes to best practice, as well as establishing key performance indicators. Remember, there is always room for improvement.

How does your hospital perform on the cost-quality-outcomes spectrum? Take this Hospital Supply Chain Performance Self-Assessment to find out.

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