Monday, March 10, 2008

Wasted Time

"Time waste differs from material waste in that there can be no salvage. The easiest of all wastes, and the hardest to correct, is this waste of time, because wasted time does not litter the floor like wasted material."

-- Henry Ford, Today and Tomorrow, 1926, p. 114

How many people reading this blog can already pick out 3 processes (maybe going on right now) in their clinic that are hopelessly inefficient? I’m assuming that most of us can answer yes to that question. Time waste is a difficult concept in healthcare because the end result (namely treating the patient) is still accomplished.

But the more people in the system, and the longer it takes them to get through it the more inefficient the clinic will be and the more people have to wait. The concept that any wasted time affects people ‘downriver’ is a tough one to accept. But it is very true. Another way to think about it is that “time saved with one patient can be spent with another”. But what is wasted time? Not all waiting is waste. For instance, waiting for local anesthetic to take effect, a wound to heal or antibiotics to act are all processes working not waiting. On the other hand, having someone sit in reception waiting for an open room, letting them wait for the provider while he/she sees another patient and waiting on hold on the phone are all waiting and waste.

Finally the greatest waiting waste is time in between appointments. Because time wasted needs to be judged by the yardstick of the patient time in between appointments is usually the greatest wait. Decreasing the time between appointments, improves the process for the patient, decreases the number of the people in the system which in turn improves efficiency and simplifies administration. For a discussion on which types of waiting is waste see the link below. Which process has the greatest waste in you’re clinic?

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