Real-Time Location Systems – a Goldmine for Process Engineers

by Betsy Kraft, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Director of Solution Design at Infinite Leap

As a Six Sigma professional, I look at the world around me with a lens of “How can I make each process better? How can I optimize it?” and I am always “data hungry.” That is why I was so excited to be introduced to Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) a few years back while working as the Operational Excellence Engineer for a large academic medical center. Now, as the Solution Design Director at Infinite Leap, I have the opportunity to share with our healthcare clients how to use RTLS data for process re-engineering.

Today, I would like to share with you how to leverage Real-Time Location Systems in the Six Sigma DMAIC process.

DMAIC is the acronym for the Six Sigma process phases:

D = Define
M = Measure
A = Analyze
I = Improve
C = Control

These phases define a common and structured approach to solving a problem. For each phase, there are some primary activities associated with them, so let’s take a closer look at what DMAIC is and how RTLS can be leveraged at each phase of the DMAIC process.

DMAIC: Define
The first phase of DMAIC aims to define the problem statement and plan the improvement initiative. Ideally, it should also quantify the level of “pain”. Although it is not hard to identify burning problems, the ability to measure their size is often quite difficult. When organizations have access to Real-Time Location data, is it very easy and visible to identify the problem, define the problem statement, and set goals for improvements. Because RTLS data are collected automatically and stored for as long as needed, accessing it is straightforward and provides quantifiable information for defining the scope of the issue. For example, with RTLS you can understand if you have issues with wait times, assets underutilization, or bottlenecks in operational processes such as a room turnover.

DMAIC: Measure
In the second phase of DMAIC we collect data from the existing process and establish valid and reliable metrics to help monitor progress towards the goal defined in the previous step. It is important that the measurements are accurate, as unreliable data collection defeats the purpose of Six Sigma as it is a data-driven approach. I experienced myself how painful and time consuming it was to measure processes with a stopwatch, or needing to dig through piles of paper documents or dispersed spreadsheets to get the needed data. However, the biggest problem was that this data provided just a small glimpse of what was going on. Once I got my hands on the data derived from RTLS systems, it was like hitting a goldmine. The data was already collected, through various sensors located in the facility and location badges worn by staff and patients, so the data was accurate and not skewed by the fact that someone was “watching” and measuring the process, such as washing hands. The data also represented all times of the day and days of the week, times that otherwise is very difficult to collect.

DMAIC: Analyze
The third phase of DMAIC studies the business process and the data generated to understand the root causes of the problem. Because the goal of this phase is to analyze the process to identify ways to eliminate the gap between current performance and the desired goal, having access to RTLS data is remarkable. RTLS provides direct access to data through built-in reports, and the data can also be retrieved to use in external analytical tools, such as Tableau or Qlik, to arrive at validated root causes of the problem.

DMAIC: Improve
In the fourth phase we identify possible improvement actions, prioritize them, test the improvements, and finalize the improvement action plan. This is the stage where we find and test new ways to do things better, cheaper, or faster. Having a Real-Time Locations System enables you to immediately see the results of applied process changes and validate the right course of action. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of rapid feedback, and this is possible with RTLS.

DMAIC: Control
The fifth and last phase of DMAIC is Control. This phase of DMAIC aims to ensure the full-scale implementation of the improvement action plan by setting up controls to monitor the system so gains are sustained. This process becomes very streamlined when organizations have an RTLS system in place for patient tracking because data is collected in an ongoing and automated way to monitor the stability of the new process.

Following the DMAIC approach of Six Sigma problem-solving is a proven way to take a structured, data-driven approach to problem-solving. By leveraging a Real-Time Location System, your organization can enable an evidence-based process changes approach instead of depending on your gut-feel.

If you would like to learn how you can incorporate your existing RTLS system into your process improvement processes, or would like to discuss how to introduce an RTLS system in your organization, please feel free to reach out to me. I would be delighted to share my experiences.