IT WAS A BIG DEAL in the laboratory of Grant Riverside Hospital of Columbus, Ohio when Lab Site Manager Sandra Hood received her certification as a Six Sigma Black Belt on January 23, 2002.
That’s because hospital administrators had selected the laboratory to be hospital’s guinea pig. Their goal was to gauge the effectiveness of Six Sigma and Lean management methods in improving quality and in reducing or eliminating waste and unnecessary costs. Hood’s certification as a Black Belt in January marked the completion of the laboratory’s first Six Sigma project.
Hood’s certification was also a milestone for the hospital lab industry. THE DARK REPORT believes she is the first hospital-based laboratorian in the United States to become a Black Belt.
“When this Six Sigma project started last July, I was the Manager of Transfusion Services,” recalled Hood. “I was selected as the Interim Project Manager for Process Excellence, which is the management program offered by Johnson & Johnson Company that incorporates Six Sigma and Lean methods.
“Our lab project was to eliminate a wasteful step that was called ‘pre-storage review,’ she stated. “After testing, our med techs would do a check on every specimen as a way to catch errors that might have originated from any of six causes, such as label generation, accessioning, routing, and specimen handling.
“The project was scheduled for six months and ended within days of our target date,” noted Hood. “We totally eliminated the need for ‘pre-storage review.’ The measurable results were impressive. We saved 11 hours of med tech time per day and three hours of phlebotomist time per day. Net savings recognized were $117,000 per year.” “The next project for the laboratory will incorporate ‘lean’ methods to redesign workflow from registration through testing,” explained Hood. “We have a sizeable outreach business and those specimens have been handled separately from inpatient specimens.
“However, because the first lab project freed up so much med tech time, we now have the opportunity to utilize our lab more efficiently. So one component of the lean project is to develop a single process to feed both inpatient and outreach specimens to the instruments in the most productive manner possible,” said Hood.
Her experience with Six Sigma and Lean has changed Hood’s management perspectives in fundamental ways. “This is an exciting way to manage,” she enthused. “Everyone in the lab has caught the fever. In fact, as news of our pilot project spread throughout the hospital, our laboratory staff gained a new respect. Moreover, other departments want to do their own Six Sigma projects and the hospital currently has six more people in black belt training.”
Hospital administration at Grant Riverside Hospital is equally enthusiastic about the effectiveness of Six Sigma and Lean. One of Hood’s new roles is as spokesperson for the Process Excellence program at the hospital. “Not only have I done presentations for our Board,” recalled Hood, “but I represent this program at various public events. This is all very exciting from someone who has spent most of her time quietly working away in a laboratory.”
Proven Management Tool
THE DARK REPORT believes the arrival of Six Sigma and Lean is an important development for hospital laboratories. It is a proven tool that allows lab directors and pathologists to simultaneously improve quality while reducing costs—all in a controlled manner with full support by the entire lab team.
Hood believes that laboratorians will embrace this approach, once they understand it. “Lab people have an analytical nature that is a natural complement to Six Sigma and Lean,” she observed. “It’s been widely-accepted in our lab because it makes positive things happen in a deliberate way.”
A handful of other hospitals are in the early stages of launching Process Excellence projects, so adoption of Six Sigma and Lean should grow over time as the results of these efforts become public. In the commercial laboratory sector, Quest Diagnostics Incorporated was the first lab company to make implementation of Six Sigma a strategic business priority. (See TDR, October 23, 2000.)
THE DARK REPORT considers the arrival of Six Sigma and Lean to the laboratory industry as an important development because it gives lab executives and pathologists the ability to reshape their organizations to meet the clinical and financial challenges of the healthcare marketplace. That is why THE DARK REPORT will closely track the successes of early lab adopters.
Requirements To Earn Six Sigma “Black Belt”
“THERE ARE FOUR STEPS REQUIRED to earn a black belt certification,” stated Sandra Hood, Site Manager for the labs at Grant Riverside Hospital and the nation’s first-ever hospital laboratory professional to earn such a certification.
“First, a candidate must attend four weeks of training—one week for four months,” she said. “I did my training with Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics in Rochester, New York.
“Second, at the end of training, there is a skills assessment,” she continued. “The third requirement is to complete a project in the work environment that incorporates Six Sigma methods.
“Fourth, to apply for certification, it is necessary to submit a notebook that contains documentation of the project and pass an oral examination conducted by a panel of master black belts.”