Thursday, November 30, 2006

Q. What is a workflow diagram? What will it tell me, and how will it make my company more efficient?
A. A goal of any well-run organization should be to optimize output with available resources. This applies to all aspects of the business, including product delivery, patient care and overhead processes. For most of us, simple flow charts and industry experience are enough to create a meaningful model. This process begins by identifying a specific operational problem like poor cash flow.
There are three steps to identify operational inefficiencies and create work-flow improvements. The first step is to create standards or expectations. The standard may be an industry wide indicator, or something specific to the process or service. A common example is the DSO (days sales outstanding); HME dealers should expect to collect their cash in 60 days. The second step is to document the optimal process. This can be done with flow chart software--drawing a flow chart with a template or simply listing the steps required to complete a task. The key to this process is to be realistic and honest about the critical steps required to complete a task. This exercise should include staff who are involved in the task, and those who influence the work flow. In the DSO example, each step in the process should be identified from the delivery of the product, to the receipt of the critical documents, to the creation and delivery of an invoice and the posting of cash receipts. The third step is to develop measurements that provide feedback on the efficiency and effectiveness of each step. Each person who participates in the process should be made aware of their success or failure relative to the standard. The work-flow process provides the opportunity to identify variances from expected outcomes and the best practices that will standardize work flow. hme
HME consultant Joe Haley is a partner with Healthcare Strategies. Reach him at or 401-447-7123.