Bad "Root Causing" in the ER

globeandmail.com : Vancouver General’s ER doctors warn patients

The problem described in this article is a very common one, regarding “patient flow.” When hospitals don’t have beds available for patients, this is often due to poor processes, slow room turnaround, etc.

But, the ER suffers as patients are held in queue between the ER (they’ve already been treated and are waiting for admission). I’m sure it’s horrible to sit or lay in a hospital corridor for hours waiting.

Usually, the ER gets blamed, headlines say something is wrong with the ER, the ER needs fixing, etc. The ER is not the bottleneck, but they are “blocked” as we would say in the Industrial Engineering or queueing theory worlds.

This case in Vancouver has the doctors up in arms. They are handing out pamphlets warning patients that they can “no longer guarantee “safe, timely and appropriate emergency care.”

The “solution” they propose seems less than well thought out:

“The doctors say the solution is to share the overcrowding in emergency with other areas of the hospitals, by moving patients who clog emergency hallways while waiting for beds to other corridors.”

So basically they want to just shuffle patients to other hallways? Out of sight, out of mind? This is better health care?

The head of the nurses union agrees there is a problem, but seems to have more common sense:

“I am endorsing their frustration and their concern about providing safe patient care,” Ms. Dhillon said, “but moving patients around is just a stopgap measure.”

So I agree with the doctors that people should write letters to administrators, but I hope they don’t follow the doctors’ “solution.”

The lean approach, however, would encourage folks to look at the systemic nature of problems. Look at patient flow and the “Value Stream” across departments, not just in the ED or not just in one hallway. It probably requires a cross-functional team to get to the core of the issues there.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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