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Herding Cats — The Case for Standardization

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Standardization is a recent trend across many industries—automotive, nuclear, even aerospace. Aligning processes creates more efficiency, drives costs down, and allows companies to perform at a higher level of productivity and innovation. Healthcare is an obvious candidate for standardizing.

Unfortunately, the medical community has not yet embraced the trend. Major differences can be found in the delivery of patient care in different hospital systems, between departments in the same system, and even among individual providers within the same department. This can lead to patient confusion reduced revenue, and potential negative patient outcomes.

Standardization has a number of very real, very important benefits, not the least of which is patient safety. Efficiency, inventory optimization, and cost savings are also major considerations, especially as hospitals are seeing decreases in revenue as costs increase.

Even through there are recommended best practices from such respected groups as the Joint Commission and the National Patient Safety Foundation, there is no actual legal mandate for organizations to follow these recommendations. So even though there may be processes for the best treatment of patients that are agreed upon by the physician community, often organizations choose to only implement those that align with their budgets or staffing limitations—if they implement any at all.

However, at Kit Check we are seeing some hospitals move towards standardizing some processes, particularly in pharmacy. For this group, standardizing is the first step in a plan towards more efficiency. Consolidating medications and streamlining daily processes captures efficiencies of scale, saving money on inventory, loss, overtime, and headcount. Getting out from under confusing, time-consuming, manual costs frees up pharmacy staff to work at the top of their licenses instead of spending their time putting out fires.

For example, UNC Healthcare recently did a major overhaul of their pharmacy systems, centralizing and standardizing their drug purchasing, inventory tracking, and tray replenishment.

The process starts with research and an analysis of the full drug life cycle. Processes are mapped to find choke points, variations within practices, sites or providers operating independently of one another—identifying where there are opportunities for improvement. While this has been described as “herding cats,” the fact remains that standardizing processes based on real hospital data can only lead to better patient outcomes.