INDIANAPOLIS—Occasionally, a physician looking to build business acumen will obtain certification in process improvement, hoping to increase practice efficiency. But rarely—if ever—have more than two dozen physicians done so at once.
Twenty-six physician MBA students at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business Indianapolis recently received green belt certification in Healthcare Lean Six Sigma process improvement through the Business of Medicine MBA Program. The certification was an elective the students chose to pursue in addition to Business of Medicine MBA coursework.
“There is incredible opportunity within the healthcare industry to improve efficiency in delivery. These physician students have gained tools and experience to make great changes within their healthcare organizations,” said Mohan V. Tatikonda, professor of operations management and research director of the IU Center for the Business of Life Sciences. “The tools they’ve learned through this Lean Six Sigma program help them to increase value, reduce costs and increase access at their healthcare organizations while reducing stress for providers, patients and families.”
Increasingly, healthcare leaders have embraced Lean Six Sigma to improve efficiency with projects led by hospital administration or outside consultants. This course within the Business of Medicine MBA program gives physicians the training and experience to drive transformation in their respective areas and empowers them to make the business case for improving patient care.
To achieve this certification, the 26 physician MBA students were trained in process improvement tools, which they used to carry out eight process improvement projects within their own healthcare organizations. Students represented both large and small healthcare organizations and hailed from various specialties and positions such as Chief Medical Officer and cancer researcher. Projects included reducing patient waiting time in an outpatient clinic, increasing physician satisfaction in a large hospital and reducing patient readmissions.
“Leading projects such as these can be challenging and even uncomfortable for physicians who are accustomed to giving orders,” said Tatikonda. “It requires a different mindset and is part of the learning process the students encounter.”
A project team led by Dr. Thomas Ciulla, ophthalmologist and a director at the Midwest Eye Institute of Indianapolis, reduced average patient waiting times in his clinic by 20 minutes per visit, increasing both patient and employee satisfaction. Given the thousands of patient visits each year at this clinic, the overall time saved is massive.
“The Lean Six Sigma training was a wonderful, objective process that allowed us to achieve phenomenal results,” said Dr. Ciulla. “The patients who had visited us prior to and after our process improvements were absolutely shocked and thrilled by the improvements. It was a great experience for me and even more so for the staff who were involved in making these changes.”
Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology aimed at reducing defects and waste. Students in this program worked in teams of two to four physicians to identify a process to improve at one of their respective facilities, collect data to better understand that process, evaluate solutions, execute the improvement and measure resulting benefits.
“The tools we learned through Lean Six Sigma are truly valuable because they give you security in knowing you’re on a true north pattern in your pursuit of improvement, as opposed to a random effort,” said Dr. Virginia Dolan, a pediatrician at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill. “There’s something empowering about identifying a goal and knowing it will be accomplished in 120 days, as opposed to sitting on committees without true direction. It was certainly a focused, team effort.”
By earning their green belts, the physician MBAs showed not only mastery of process improvement tools but also the ability to lead a real project. Should they decide to pursue further training, which requires gaining skills in additional tools and experience in carrying through more projects, the students may go on to achieve additional certification such as the black belt certification.
“Because these students are achieving their green belt certifications within a full two-year MBA program, they’re getting far more leadership knowledge than normally expected from a green or even a black belt,” said Tatikonda, one of a handful of experts in the country who studies enterprise-level Six Sigma programs. “They’ve gained experience in various disciplines—marketing, finance, strategy, economics—which brings more richness and interplay to bear when they’re working on a project.”
The students earning this certification are members of the first graduating class of the Business of Medicine physician MBA program at Kelley Indianapolis.
About IU Kelley School of Business Indianapolis
The Indiana University Kelley School of Business has been a leader in American business education for 95 years. With more than 105,000 living alumni and an enrollment of nearly 9,500 students across two campuses and online, the Kelley School is among the premier business schools in the country. Kelley Indianapolis, based on the IUPUI campus, is home to a full-time undergraduate program and four graduate programs, including master’s programs in accounting and taxation, the Business of Medicine MBA for physicians and the Evening MBA, which is ranked twelfth in the country by U.S. News and World Report and No. 1 in academic quality by Bloomberg Businessweek. Learn more at kelley.iupui.edu.