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Improving ED specimen TAT using Lean Six Sigma

Janet H Sanders (Department of Technology Systems, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA)
Tedd Karr (Vidant Health Centers, Greenville, NC, USA)

International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance

ISSN: 0952-6862

Article publication date: 8 June 2015



Lean and Six Sigma are continuous improvement methodologies that have garnered international fame for improving manufacturing and service processes. Increasingly these methodologies are demonstrating their power to also improve healthcare processes. The purpose of this paper is to discuss a case study for the application of Lean and Six Sigma tools in the reduction of turnaround time (TAT) for Emergency Department (ED) specimens. This application of the scientific methodologies uncovered opportunities to improve the entire ED to lab system for the specimens.


This case study provides details on the completion of a Lean Six Sigma project in a 1,000 bed tertiary care teaching hospital. Six Sigma’s Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control methodology is very similar to good medical practice: first, relevant information is obtained and assembled; second, a careful and thorough diagnosis is completed; third, a treatment is proposed and implemented; and fourth, checks are made to determine if the treatment was effective. Lean’s primary goal is to do more with less work and waste. The Lean methodology was used to identify and eliminate waste through rapid implementation of change.


The initial focus of this project was the reduction of turn-around-times for ED specimens. However, the results led to better processes for both the internal and external customers of this and other processes. The project results included: a 50 percent decrease in vials used for testing, a 50 percent decrease in unused or extra specimens, a 90 percent decrease in ED specimens without orders, a 30 percent decrease in complete blood count analysis (CBCA) Median TAT, a 50 percent decrease in CBCA TAT Variation, a 10 percent decrease in Troponin TAT Variation, a 18.2 percent decrease in URPN TAT Variation, and a 2-5 minute decrease in ED registered nurses rainbow draw time.

Practical implications

This case study demonstrated how the quantitative power of Six Sigma and the speed of Lean worked in harmony to improve the blood draw process for a 1,000 bed tertiary care teaching hospital. The blood draw process is a standard process used in hospitals to collect blood chemistry and hematology information for clinicians. The methods used in this case study demonstrated valuable and practical applications of process improvement methodologies that can be used for any hospital process and/or service environment.


While this is not the first case study that has demonstrated the use of continuous process improvement methodologies to improve a hospital process, it is unique in the way in which it utilizes the strength of the project focussed approach that adheres more to the structure and rigor of Six Sigma and relied less on the speed of lean. Additionally, the application of these methodologies in healthcare is emerging research.



Sanders, J.H. and Karr, T. (2015), "Improving ED specimen TAT using Lean Six Sigma", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 428-440.



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