Smart Surgery

Why Agile Is Essential for Healthcare Improvement

18 Jan 2019

Healthcare isn’t agile. In fact, it’s pretty close to the bottom of nimble industries.

Taking a step back, systemic improvement could start just by looking at how providers approach the development and implementation of IT/systems changes. Implementing an agile approach holds serious benefits for healthcare, as highlighted in a 2017 report by McKinsey.  

Why Healthcare Needs Agile

Despite the rapid developments in healthcare, hospitals are often slow to integrate changes and are prone to inefficient bureaucracy. That means system-wide changes are often pushed down all at once, disrupting numerous departments, workflows, and personnel. True change management is unfortunately often just an afterthought.

By implementing an agile approach, hospitals are able to avoid work that doesn’t add value because changes are either validated or rejected by the data. Additionally, agile can also minimize management barriers because the scope and direction of changes are evidence-based and data-driven. Since iterations are short, it prevents wasting time planning for things that are ultimately uncertain.  

How to Implement An Agile Approach in Surgical Care

Let’s consider an example in surgery. Data shows that a subsection of patients undergoing an appendectomy are more susceptible to postoperative complications. Surgeons get together and review video and case notes from previous procedures and decide to make a slight adjustment in how the procedure is performed in an effort to minimize the patients’ risk. After a period, the team will collect and review the data to see if it supports their claim, and make adjustments as necessary.

This is how agile looks in surgical care. It emphasizes collaboration, self-organization, and functionality and aims to make continuous improvements based on data-driven and validated evidence. As it applies to surgery, an agile approach works to consistently identify issues in surgical care, hypothesize potential solutions based on data, and make adjustments based on outcomes. This is the agile process: development, validation, adjustment. Through this process of trial-and-error, agile teams can get closer and closer to achieving their goal.

There are five conditions that can help promote an agile organization.:

  1. Transparency between departments

  2. Market sensitivity and customer-focused

  3. Support for self-organizing employees

  4. Elastic and responsive organizational structure

  5. Flexibility and Short Iteration Periods

Because ORs are so data-rich, they are well-positioned for agile strategies. Unfortunately, however, this data is often siloed off. To overcome this, surgical teams can look to technology and utilize a data warehouse to compile all the data and combine this with machine learning and AI to discover trends that can both inform agile teams of inefficiencies as well as reveal what produces the best results.

Whatever variable is changed-- the usage of checklists, the use of a specific surgical technique, adjustments in OR workflow-- agile teams can measure outcomes and course correct to work continuously improve patient outcomes, rather than starting from scratch each time. Through more dynamic workflows, hospitals will be better positioned to meet the challenges of modern healthcare.

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Sean Witry

Written by Sean Witry

Sean Witry works as Community Manager and Content Marketer at caresyntax. With a background in international affairs and a focus in public health, he's passionate about exploring technology's role in increasing access to quality care and improving patient outcomes. You can reach him on LinkedIn or via email at sean.witry@caresyntax.com.

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