Benchmarking Healthcare

Benchmarking is a widely used business tool which is used in industry to monitor the performance of an organization within its peer group and to facilitate the introduction of best practice into the benchmarking business.

Typically benchmarking takes the form of measuring and comparing certain indicators between companies and feeding the results into an improvement program. Benchmarking is playing an increasingly important role in the service sector and is now commonplace in customer focused organizations and is now also widespread in healthcare.

Traditional benchmarking in industry will often formulate around strategic goals and targets coupled with meeting customer requirement– common benchmarking studies might include

* Operating cost vs turnover
* Direct vs Indirect headcount
* On time delivery to customer
* Customer satsifaction

Healthcare benchmarking applies the same principles in that it looks to identify best practice within a peer group and then assesses the healthcare organization against that identifying gaps or areas of concern.

Stages in Benchmarking Healthcare

Benchmarking has a defined process which when followed correctly can provide better results than a “scatter gun” approach of measuring the wrong indicators with the wrong peer group which could result in a failure to improve. The UK’s NHS identified a six stage program for healthcare benchmarking

1/ Identify Best Practice
2/ Assess organization against best practice
3/ Develop improvement plan based upon results
4/ Regularly review status against best practice
5/ Disseminate improvements and review action plan
6/ Implement regular Assessments and peer reviews.

Stage 6 is crucially important as processes and systems do not stand still and working practice evolve from for example the introduction of new technology or methods of care – Benchmarking should therefore be a continuous activity with periodic reviews of activity and peer groups.

In their study the NHS identified various areas for benchmarking and considered four key areas when carrying out analysis

1/ Staffing – processes and systems around the personnel involved in the healthcare facility
2/ Patient Care Involvement – ensuring the voice of the customer (in this case the patient) is taken into account and used in continuous improvement practices.
3/ Education and Training – Healthcare personnel have the relevant skills and training to deliver patient needs
4/ Policies and Procedures – appropriate policies and procedures are in place within the healthcare organization

These four areas were used as the leading indicators when particular clinical areas were assessed, they were then broken down into contributing factors – for example patient care involvement was seen as a number of factors such as information sharing, interpersonal skills, empowerment which could be individually assessed to build up to an overall score. By focusing the benchmarking strategy on a clear goal “The patient” – subsequent improvement activity and its effectiveness could be tracked back to delineated requirements and focussed assessment.

Healthcare organizations have an important advantage over their industrial counterparts – peer groups which many businesses struggle to develop to support benchmarking activities are readily available in healthcare – with deliverables and processes common across the sector benchmarking opportunities are readily available – there has been a significant increase over the last 10 years in healthcare associations around the world who look to benchmarking to help improve patient care and tackle the problem of rising costs.

The NHS benchmarking initiative is an intriguing case-study for anyone that wants to learn more about benchmarking – their implementation shows a robust method coupled with strict guidelines for assessment. A wide support network and government recognition of the importance of disseminating best practice among healthcare professionals has led to benchmarking healthcare being a cornerstone of clinical care improvement.

Resources

http://www.nhsbenchmarking.nhs.uk/default.asp?content=steering
http://www.healthinsite.gov.au/topics/Benchmarking_and_Best_Practice
http://www.abhc.org/

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