Lean/Six Sigma in Labs Becomes More Common

Lab Quality Confab in Atlanta on Sept. 19-20 is first conference devoted to quality management

CEO SUMMARY: Across healthcare, laboratories, hospitals, and health systems are leading the drive to incorporate quality management methods into clinical services and daily operations. This fall, in Atlanta, the Lab Quality Confab will provide a detailed look at this trend, with 50 speakers, master classes, case studies, full-day workshops, an exhibit hall, and even Lean and Six Sigma poster sessions with trophies and cash awards.

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT TRENDS in laboratory management is the growing acceptance and use of quality management methods, including Lean, Six Sigma, and ISO 15189.

It was only in 2002 and 2003 that a handful of hospital laboratory organizations in the United States became the first in the nation to embrace and use Lean and Six Sigma to improve individual work processes and trigger substantial improvements in quality, productivity, cost reduction, and staff morale. (See TDR, September 8, 2003.)

In the five years since these pioneers proved the value of Lean and Six Sigma in laboratory and pathology operations, a steadily growing number of labs and hospitals have introduced quality management programs into their organizations. As a trend, use of Lean, Six Sigma, and similar methodologies is no longer restricted to first-mover and early-adopter laboratories. It is going mainstream across both the laboratory profession and the hospital industry.

That is the inspiration for the upcoming Lab Quality Confab (www.labqualityconfab.com), a conference devoted to quality management in diagnostic medicine. It will take place on September 19-20, 2007, at the Westin Peachtree Hotel in Atlanta.

Produced by THE DARK REPORT, it is another lab industry first. There will be more than 50 speakers with special sessions and case studies on a full range of Lean/Six Sigma projects that cover various aspects of clinical services and operational processes.

Major Survey Across Industry

“To assemble a faculty of 50 speakers required many phone calls and discussions with in vitro diagnostics (IVD) manufacturers, lab industry consultants, labs, and pathology groups currently using Lean and Six Sigma in their respective organizations,” stated Robert L. Michel, organizer of Lab Quality Confab and Editor-In-Chief of THE DARK REPORT. “By itself, this was a major survey of the quality management trend across the laboratory profession.

“Three things became obvious as a result of this interaction with such a wide spectrum of people and organizations,” continued Michel. “First, the number of laboratories and pathology groups actively using Lean, Six Sigma, and process improvement methods today is much greater than the popular wisdom—and the speed of adoption continues to accelerate.

“Second, labs are enthusiastically engaging IVD manufacturers and consultants to come in and help teach and implement these management approaches,” observed Michel. “This happens in one of two ways. It may be an engagement to do a single project, designed to be a one-shot improvement effort. Alternatively, some laboratories and hospitals are ready to make a top-down culture change. These organizations are engaging experts to help them implement and sustain an on-going, organization-wide improvement program.

“The third finding is a powerful insight: consultants and their lab clients report an almost 100% rate of success at applying Lean, Six Sigma, and process improvement methods and achieving the planned outcomes!” said Michel.

“Let me restate it another way, for emphasis,” he continued. “I did not learn of a single ‘failure’ by labs and hospitals that used Lean and Six Sigma methodology. When these principles and tools are applied appropriately, there is always measurable improvement in the targeted outcomes.”

Continuous Improvement

Attendees at Lab Quality Confab will have the opportunity to confirm these findings for themselves. There will be master classes taught by experts in Lean, Six Sigma, and process improvement. These sessions provide hands-on instruction in the tools, philosophies, and methods of continuous improvement.

More than 20 break-out sessions will showcase case studies and specific improvement projects conducted by laboratories and hospitals. The outcomes are remarkable. At PAML, in Spokane, Washington, the courier and logistics department has integrated Lean/Six Sigma methods with a sophisticated informatics capability. Currently deployed across 125 routes in Washington and Idaho, PAML is achieving 5+ Sigma in the daily performance of its courier division.

Another case study will be presented by North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System of New Hyde Park, New York. It is using improvement principles to develop laboratory best practices at one site, then rapidly introduce them in the labs of each of the system’s 15 hospitals.

Other case studies will cover patient ID, phlebotomy, processing, core lab and automation, histology, surgical pathology, hematology, and even laboratory sales and marketing. Sonora Quest Laboratories, winner of the Arizona Quality Program Governor’s Award, will share its experience at using client, patient, and staff surveys to drive continuous improvement against world class benchmarks.

At the general sessions, Lab Quality Confab will feature one of the first lab industry presentations by General Electric since it took steps to expand its presence in in vitro diagnostics. Marc E. Cottle, Service Business Operations Leader, IVD Integration at GE, will discuss how GE’s quality journey led it to expand its presence in healthcare.

Another keynote speaker is Barton Gill, Managing Principal/Senior Director, Consulting Solutions, Premier, Inc. A self-described pragmatic improvement specialist, he will discuss how and why ever-growing numbers of hospitals, laboratories, and physicians are incorporating continuous improvement into their clinical and operational activities.

One unique opportunity at Lab Quality Confab will be poster sessions of Lean, Six Sigma improvement projects. To recognize the most outstanding examples, Lab Quality Confab will offer trophies and cash awards totaling $6,000. Judging will take place in two categories: projects in clinical laboratories and projects involving anatomic pathology services, including pathology group practices. Poster presenters must be invited. A special page at www.labqualityconfab.com has full details and instructions on how to submit an abstract for consideration for an invitation.

To Help Lab Professionals

“Lean/Six Sigma poster sessions add additional learning beyond the more than 50 participating labs, IVD firms, consultants, and hospitals at the Lab Quality Confab.,” noted Michel. “The organization of this program is designed to help laboratory professionals in two ways.

“One, anyone actively involved in Lean/Six Sigma projects will find everything they need to advance their skills, ability, and network of fellow quality practitioners,” Michel said. “Two, for anyone ready to start their quality journey, they can gain the knowledge, meet the experts, and learn how to successfully plan and implement projects.

“Another fact sets this gathering apart from most lab industry meetings,” concluded Michel. “Lab leaders already working with Lean and Six Sigma are passionate about this subject. For that reason, this will be an enthusiastic gathering.”

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