Can we Observe Healthcare Workflows the Same way we Watch Football?

Could we shadow healthcare workflows with the same mindset we have watching sports? Let's take a look at some of the benefits that come from shadowing clinical workflows over time.

Can we Observe Healthcare Workflows the Same way we Watch Football?

When you are watching sports, do you ever find yourself thinking they should have done something different? ... If they could change a few key things, they would be a much better team. ... More of their plays would be successful, and they would win more games. Sound familiar? Even if you are not one of the people who yell in the stadium (or at the TV) hoping they hear your thoughts ... chances are at some point, you've had them. It’s frustrating because to your outside eyes, it's something simple that would make all the difference.

Where am I going with all this?

As I get ready to spend my Sundays glued to the television watching NFL football. I started thinking about workflows.

Could we observe healthcare workflows the same way we watch sports?

You might be thinking it’s a bit of a stretch to compare watching football to shadowing workflows, but is it? Both are team-based activities focused on achieving a collective goal. A football team wants to move the ball towards the end zone to score as many points as they can. They need to address the obstacles and challenges presented by the opposition. ... And .... they need to stop the other team from scoring. In healthcare, we also work in teams and focus on a collective goal - making or keeping our patients healthy. We address obstacles and challenges along the way. We work to prevent the opposition (aka the disease/ailment) from "scoring".

If we can form opinions and offer suggestions to a football team - why can’t we do the same for healthcare workflows?

Outside observation allows you a perspective that differs from that of your day-to-day. As a participating as a team member, it may be hard to see how your actions and activities fit within the broader workflow. Sometimes we need to take a step back to see the big picture. When we want to gain efficiencies or improve patient outcomes, having an opportunity to observe the ‘game’ might be beneficial.

Workflow shadowing may not be the first thing you think of in your quest to improve workflows. But, the activity could prove useful. Especially if it is done with some frequency so workflow can be observed over time.

Observation of a workflow can help to identify:

  • areas that are not flowing efficiently or seem to cause unnecessary bottleneck(s);
  • areas where team member(s) may need more training;
  • areas of IT functionality that need a redesign;
  • workarounds that are in place;
  • activities that could improve the process if completed by another resource/different role; and
  • sequencing issues that result in duplication or slowdown.

Consideration should also be given to having different individuals shadow the same workflow for several days or weeks. Each individual brings their own experience and area of knowledge to the observations. In keeping with the football analogy .... think of the game-day comments made by a former sports coach, compared to a retired football player, or a non-athletic process engineer. When shadowing healthcare process flows, think of the different perspectives an IT analyst, an RN, a unit clerk, or a provider can bring. Each shadow observer may provide valuable insights for improvement.

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” ― Marilyn vos Savant

Go Broncos!