Using process flow disruption analysis to guide quality improvement


Background: Process flow describes the efficiency and consistency with which a process functions. Disruptions in surgical flow have been shown to be associated with an increase in error. Despite this, little experience exists in using surgical flow analysis to guide quality improvement (QI).

Study design: In a 900-bed teaching hospital with an annual surgical volume of 24,000 cases, a 4-month observational study of process flow was done by experts in complex system evaluation. Identified flow disruptions were used to guide QI. Statistical analysis included descriptive and bivariate techniques.

Results: More than 200 unique process data points were evaluated. There was a high degree of variability in completion of 79 individual intraoperative data elements. Lack of completion of all elements of the time out was associated with number of times the operating room door opened during case (19, 11-27; p = 0.01). Flow disruptions were used to direct surgical QI. One example was a disruption affecting the use of Sugammadex. Resolving this flow disruption resulted in a 59% reduction in the incidence of postoperative respiratory failure (p < 0.01) and a direct and variable cost savings of $447,200 and $313,160, respectively, in the first 12 months.

Conclusions: The use of process flow analysis to direct surgical quality initiatives is a novel approach that emphasizes system-level strategy. Resolving flow disruptions can lead to effective QI that embraces reliability by focusing attention on common processes rather than adverse events that may be unique and therefore difficult to apply broadly.

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