Engineering Tactics Can Identify Broader Inefficiencies in Your Hospital

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Though the alliance may not be obvious, hospital leaders can turn to their facilities directors and engineers for advice on how to identify inefficiencies. That was the prime lesson attendees heard during a keynote last week at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering's (ASHE) annual conference in Anaheim, CA.

In some aspects, hospitals could learn from the operations of McDonald's Corporation, said Stephen Mayfield, DHA, MBA, MBB, senior vice president for quality and performance improvement for the American Hospital Association (AHA) and director of the AHA's Quality Center.

A consumer can go to any McDonald's across the country and know what to expect. However, hospitals don't use that business model, which leads to confusion for patients, Mayfield said.

"If we don't do anything about this … patients will eventually abandon hospitals [except in dire circumstances]," he said.

An example that he showed to ASHE attendees was a modern-looking, flat pill bottle, which because of its shape is easier to read a label from than more traditional circular pill bottles. The newer bottles also have color coding to indicate which medications a person should take on a particular day or at a certain time. Such simple changes can improve patient safety, Mayfield said.

Hospital engineers are familiar with this type of streamlining, he added. In the early 2000s, hospital facilities representatives worked with the Food and Drug Administration and medical gas vendors to review safety pin systems and labeling for medical gas line hook-ups, such that a nitrous oxide supply could not be inserted mistakenly into an oxygen connection. The changes occurred after at least 22 patients received the wrong medical gas and were injured or died.