Using a pain clinic as a testing ground, researchers at Johns Hopkins have shown that a management process first popularized by Toyota in Japan can substantially reduce patient wait times and possibly improve the teaching of interns and residents.
In a report on the pilot study, published online Sept. 9 in Pain Medicine, the researchers adopted the so-called “Just-in-Time” training and inventory process used now by many manufacturers and service industries to stem waste and keep complicated operations from bottlenecking.
“We realized that a significant amount of time linked to the practice of having residents-in-training see patients in the pain treatment center at the Outpatient Center was wasted and could be reduced by having patients’ records previewed by residents and discussed with attending faculty the day before appointments,” according to Kayode Williams, M.D., director of the Blaustein Pain Treatment Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, a prepared statement. That kind of transfer and sharing of information, he said, gives residents what they need in a timely way. The new process reduces waits and avoids overtime, because residents, attending faculty members and patients spent less time waiting for each other to get up to speed.
For the project, two attending faculty members assigned cases to residents the day before the patient visit. The residents reviewed each case and discussed it with the attending physician before each clinic session. Processing times for 504 patient visits were assessed over a total of four months.
Just-in-Time methodology exploits the idea that processes can be streamlined and sped up if important resources are available when they are needed. In the case of car production, for example, long-term storage of inventory and parts wasted time, money and space, and created bottlenecks on the assembly line. In the pain center, the attending physician’s time and availability were identified as the sources of the holdup. Just-in-Time methods call for removing the logjam, so Williams and a team that included faculty members from the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School sought ways to reduce and streamline the attending physician’s workload.
After the new method was implemented, the investigators estimate that the investment of 25 to 42 minutes by the attending physician in advance of the clinic hours resulted in a 175-minute reduction in total patient waiting time and a 28-minute reduction in overtime operations.
An informal survey of the residents involved in the project indicated that they felt more confident when interacting with patients as a result of the preprocessing conversation, and they believed that their learning was enhanced by the approach. Surprisingly, says Williams, the attending physicians also noted that they were more confident when dealing with the patients and that the reduced congestion in the system made the day flow more smoothly. Williams notes.