Laboratories Lead Healthcare on Quality Systems

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IS THE REST OF HEALTHCARE CATCHING UP TO THE LABORATORY INDUSTRY when it comes to the use of quality management systems like ISO-9000, Six Sigma, and Lean? In the May 2, 2005 issue of Modern Healthcare, there’s a major story on quality management systems and how some hospitals are using same to drive major improvements in performance.

For clients and regular readers of THE DARK REPORT, this is old news. Since our founding in 1995, we’ve been first to report on the substantial benefits accruing to labs which first pioneered the use of quality management systems. It was 1998 when we were the only lab industry source to announce the ISO-9000 certification of Quest Nichols Institute (San Juan Capistrano, California) and provide details of specific benefits generated by this laboratory’s adoption of ISO management precepts.

The laboratory industry should be proud of the fact that it is ahead of the hospital industry in accepting quality management systems. These are the management tools which will enable pathologists and laboratory managers to better meet the challenges of falling reimbursement and the need to raise the quality of health outcomes.

For those who don’t know, Modern Healthcare can be described as a “U.S. News & World Report” weekly magazine for healthcare executives. It is widely-read by hospital administrators. I say this for a reason. As I read Modern Healthcare’s story about quality management systems in hospitals, I was struck by the reporter’s tone. Instead of highlighting the major improvements in operations, clinical outcomes, and productivity enjoyed by the handful of hospitals now utilizing Lean, Six Sigma, ISO-9000, and other systems, the reporter chose to characterize the champions of such quality initiatives as “enthusiasts.”

The story conveyed an impression that Lean and Six Sigma practitioners in hospitals were “outside the mainstream” because of their energy and enthusiasm. I strongly disagree with this perspective. I hold firm convictions that Lean/Six Sigma-types of management philosophies are poised to trigger radical evolution in healthcare. Modern Healthcare’s willingness to under-emphasize the powerful potential of these quality management systems might be considered a sign that it believes many hospital administrators are still unprepared to accept quality management systems as a credible tool for their institutions.

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