Would you like to boost your productivity, cut your costs, eliminate duplication, dump wasteful processes & empower your team? What magical tool could possibly deliver such impressive benefits? Six Sigma.

It’s the stuff of dreams for the top execs in big pharma right now. But how does it apply to Medical Information (and probably Pharmacovigilance)?

Six Sigma is particularly used in the manufacturing, engineering and production industries to gain those benefits listed above. At the DIA Medical Communications conference earlier this year, there was an excellent workshop on Six Sigma in the world of transactions & customer service.

So what is Six Sigma? Essentially it’s a means of continual process improvement to achieve a goal of reducing defects to 3.4 instances per million – virtual perfection! Do we need that level of quality? Well, a 99% perfection level in the US would mean that being without electricity for 7 hours every month, 20,000 mail items would be lost every hour, 5000 surgical operations/week would have serious consequences and 200,000 medication errors would happen every year.

It was the highlight of the DIA meeting for me as I was curious to see how Six Sigma could relate to medical communications. This session was chaired by Becca Vermeulen, Eli Lilly. As a Six Sigma Medical Champion in charge of 21 Black Belts, Becca sounds like she is more acquainted with elite martial arts squads than implementing change management programmes. The Eli Lilly medical function use Six Sigma to align their tactical plans to their strategic vision.

Dave Asher, Asher Associates, trains teams & individuals on Six Sigma. A larger than life character, Dave gave us real insight into ways that we could apply the thinking to a world of transactions rather than bolts, widgets and machines. Six Sigma includes a methodology of problem solving that helps teams see new ways to eliminate unnecessary business processes and wasteful rework (where a piece of work needs to be checked and altered, rechecked and finally used).

If you map out a business process, identifying all the key stages, steps, actions, people touch points & systems used, it can become a complex flowchart, with a loss of quality at various points along the way. Using tools from Six Sigma, cross functional teams identify the customer needs and build business processes to deliver consistent services. Through continual monitoring and measuring service quality, the team aims for consistent, on target services. Using facts and data from metrics, bottlenecks are identified and the biggest problem areas are tackled systematically. Implemented properly, it becomes habit within teams at all levels, not just the manager’s responsibility.

So where do the elite Black belts come in? They are the facilitators and experts at process improvement that work with teams to embed the mindset so that teams automatically monitor, use and improve until they achieve the goal of 3.4 errors per million transactions.

What does this mean for MI or PV managers?

Can you honestly say that your service quality is consistent at all times? Are you sure there is no waste in your business processes? How many times do job bags, standard responses or case reports have to be checked, altered and rechecked? Can your team get it right first time?

In these cost & resource restrained times, reappraising your processes to eliminate waste & improve quality could be just what you need.

Why not give your department a Medical Information Healthcheck this summer and see if you can save you time, money and raise quality? Want to know more? Call me (+44 1600 713295) or email me on sharon@sharonleighton.co.uk