Clarkson, St. Lawrence County Health Initiative team up to hasten times for MRI results
Above, assistant professor of engineering and management Cecilia Martinez explains to engineering & management students how to work on the value stream map (VSM) for each subprocess of the MRI.
POTSDAM -- The Clarkson University School of Business has teamed up with the Health Initiative of St. Lawrence County over the past three years as part of the Rural Healthcare Leadership Development Program funded by the Charles D. Cook Office of Rural Health.This year, assistant professor of engineering and management Cecilia Martinez and two other faculty members from the School of Business led workshops in which Canton-Potsdam Hospital (CPH) staff members could enhance their leadership skills and coached projects in their area of expertise. Martinez's area of expertise is Lean Six Sigma, which relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by removing different types of inefficiencies and waste.
“This time I decided to involve students," Martinez said. "They need to test their skills on real-world challenges and it was natural to combine the needs of the students with those of Canton-Potsdam Hospital, which is a key partner of the Health Initiative."
Their goal was to reduce the amount of time it takes between a physician ordering an MRI to getting the results. While it sounds simple, the usual process sometimes has delays. Martinez knew the remedy, though. She helped the students identify areas in which they could use Lean Six Sigma tools and work on goals. Nine students and five employees from CPH figured out how to improve the MRI experience from the health care provider side, as well as from the patient's perspective.
“We needed to narrow it into three projects,” Martinez said. “First, preauthorization for the test takes about a week. Then the clinic would schedule an appointment, but the waiting time was an average of two weeks. That was the second part of the project. The third part was that the results of the MRI would go first to a radiologist to interpret, then to a medical transcriptionist, then to the physician. In about another week, a follow-up appointment could finally be booked."
The Clarkson University-CPH team streamlined the process. Test authorizations are done online now, instead of by phone. What took a week now takes a day, maybe two. Next, while people can get an MRI done in Potsdam or Canton, the Canton site was rarely used and Potsdam had a waiting list. So, making better use of both locations has trimmed the scheduling time down to one week instead of two. More time is expected to be saved by technology.
The proposed solution for the third project recommends that the radiologist interpret the report through a voice program on the computer, instead of sending it to a transcriptionist. Thanks to these changes, crucial diagnostic information gets to the physician in much less time so the patient can be better served.
This study can help in other areas of hospital work, too. Centralized scheduling also will implement changes, she says.
“The leadership team at CPH was amazed at the quality of the work,” Martinez notes happily. ”My students were fascinated at the opportunity to solve a real problem and they were able to successfully redesign a process. It's wonderful to have an opportunity to serve both the medical community and my students in a single project.”