While telemedicine has widely existed for years, it saw a major boom in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. What was once an option offered only in extenuating circumstances has now become a regular offering by many healthcare services. The beauty of Lean and telemedicine is that telemedicine, when done well, is a Lean tool by itself.
Telemedicine as a Lean Tool
The goal of telemedicine is two-fold: improve healthcare services to patients and increase the overall volume of healthcare services. As a Lean tool, telemedicine can reduce patient wait times, aid in timelier patient healthcare, and even improve patient outcomes. In addition, telemedicine requires fewer resources and increases the organization’s ability to see more patients. This results in the reduction of overall costs to the healthcare provider.
In the heat of the Covid-19 outbreak, telemedicine was instrumental during the triage process. As people sought medical assistance, healthcare providers needed a plan to manage the volume of patients needing to be seen. Many were able to establish a set of guidelines that allowed them to prioritize the most critical cases, including non-Covid ailments. By keeping non-critical patients away from doctor’s offices and hospitals, healthcare providers were able to help control Covid exposure while still providing adequate care to patients at home. In one study, approximately 89% of moderate-to-high-risk patients were successfully treated for their Covid symptoms entirely at home.
Successfully Adopting Lean Strategies in Telemedicine: A Case Study
The largest hospital in Italy, “Antonio Cardarelli” Hospital of Naples, has noticed an increase in cardiology consultations over the past few years. As the requests for help increased, the hospital began struggling to manage wait times and deliver timely healthcare services. Struggling for answers, they turned to a team of researchers who worked to help them decrease wait times and increase their overall healthcare output.
Their first step was to use a Value Stream Map to identify every activity that made up a patient’s experience. This step was crucial in identifying opportunities to eliminate waste during the consultation process. Once the waste was identified, the researchers partnered with healthcare teams to redesign the value stream, focusing on those areas that required the most waste elimination.
A large focus of the study centered around the wastefulness of doctor-patient, in-person visits for consultation, especially when the doctor need only review the patient’s medical records. The hospital decided to implement teleconsultations for stable patients and the use of handheld diagnostic equipment for in-person consultations. This resulted in a more than 10% reduction in consultation wait times and an increase in the overall volume of patients treated.
The Perfect Blend
Telemedicine is an exceptional tool for improving patient care and consultation. That said, the implementation of telemedicine is only the first step. As with any good Lean strategy, healthcare organizations should evaluate all telemedicine processes for waste elimination opportunities. By creating protocols, guidelines, and patient profiles, healthcare organizations can more seamlessly determine who is eligible for telemedicine and who should be seen in person. This continuous improvement mindset will continue to enhance the patient experience and deliver on cost-saving efforts.