We know that the healthcare industry requires strict analytical tools when implementing improvements in processes. However, measuring the impact of improvements over time can be challenging.
Statistical Process Control (SPC) has been adopted by the healthcare industry as an effective process improvement tool. SPC charts help healthcare professionals identify inefficiencies in processes that would benefit from change, and give individuals access at the board, ward, and team level, to complete data sets that inform effective decision making.
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What is Statistical Process Control?
Statistical Process Control is the use of statistical techniques to identify improvements that can be made to processes. Statistical Process Control tools plot data over time, to help professionals visualise variation in data. From that, users are guided to the best course of action to standardise the variation.
Statistical Process Control is an effective improvement tool as it enables users to easily see whether an implemented change has resulted in improvements. By employing SPC software rules to data, healthcare professionals are able to tailor SPC charts to the specific process they are measuring.
Understanding SPC Charts for Healthcare
The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) views SPC as a key component for quality improvement and SPC has been adopted by numerous NHS trusts, within their Quality Improvement Programmes.
Statistical Process Control charts can be broken down into two main chart types; Run and Control charts.
Also known as ‘Trend charts’ or ‘Time Series charts’, Run charts are line charts of data, plotted over time with rules applied to identify if a process is stable. By continually plotting data, run charts effectively uncover trends in a process or system. Run charts shows a measurement on the y-axis, plotted over time on the x-axis, where a centre line (CL) is generally drawn at the median. A ‘run’ is when one or more consecutive data points fall on the same side of the median. Statistically significant changes are signaled by too few or too many runs.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Shewhart chart’, the control chart is more advanced than run charts. The chart still depicts a single line of data, however they have an Upper Control Limit (UCL) and Lower Control Limit (LCL) feature, enabling professionals to decipher between common (normal) and special cause variations in data.
The central line in a control chart is generally the mean of the measurements (rather than the median seen in run charts). Control charts have their own set of rules for identifying special causes which are commonly different from the rules applied to run charts.
Understanding Variation in SPC Charts
There are two types of variation that may be present in the data that is visualised in an SPC chart. These are common cause and special cause variation.
Common Cause Variation
Common cause variations are causes that are inherent in a system over time. Common cause variations fall within the control limit (within the UCL and LCL) of a control chart and show that a process is stable. An example of common cause variations would be unclear standard procedures resulting in longer patient waiting times.
Special Cause Variation
Special cause variations are causes that are not part of the process or production methods but arise due to specific circumstances. Special cause variations are the assignable causes of variation in a process and the focus of process improvements. An example being a machine malfunctioning causing an error in prescription medication.
How can Statistical Process Control Improve Quality in Healthcare?
Statistical Process Control can be used in a variety of settings within the healthcare industry, such as measuring infection rates, staff sickness or inpatient waiting times. So long as a process or system has measurable outputs, SPC can be applied.
SPC charts are used in the healthcare industry when professionals input data in time order and see the impact of changes in processes on the charts data.
For example, if an NHS trust wants to measure infection rates in the hospital and notice a spike in special cause variations in the data, they can assign the variation to an inefficiency or bad practice that is taking place i.e. nurses failing to wash their hands. If the trust then creates a process whereby nurses have to wash their hands on a regular basis, they can see whether that process implementation has had the desired effect on infection rates over time.
Why is Statistical Process Control Useful for Healthcare?
Statistical Process Control is much more efficient than alternative data visualisation methods. For instance, the East London Foundation Trust utilised SPC to measure a number of different processes and produced around 35,000 charts daily. Having such a large quantity of information is extremely valuable as well as being much more reliable when implementing changes.
Any organisation can benefit financially from operating more efficiently. By tightening up your processes and procedures you can more efficiently provide your services, saving you time and therefore money in the long run.
Detect and prevent problems prior to them occurring
SPC enables early reporting on process performance. Unlike other process improvement methods, i.e. process inspection, SPC enables organisations to detect and prevent problems or inefficiencies prior to them causing more serious damage.
Gives decision makers more information
Whether that’s users at the board, ward, or team level, Statistical Process Control gives users a complete overview of a processes performance in real time. So long as the input data is reliable, SPC will give users effective information to then base decisions.
Helps with quality control
Statistical Process Control won’t tell you how to change a process, but it will tell you where and what needs to change. By having reliable information at your disposal, SPC enables healthcare organisations to accurately and confidently track implemented changes that could revolutionise the way they operate.
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Why Choose BCN Group?
BCN Group are in the unique position of being one of only a handful of SPC Software providers in the UK. With our experience in Statistical Process Control, industry-leading expertise, and our own, in-house-built SPC chart software, we can provide your organisation with the skills, knowledge, and services you need.