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The Case for Business Process Workarounds

Did you ever bleed over a process improvement plan only to run into one piece of the workflow that you just couldn’t get changed? A hospital I visited recently clearly was the victim of just such a circumstance, but rather than simply surrender to the inevitable, it hit upon a simple and effective workaround whose spirit is worthy of emulation.

The process in question has to do with patient check-in, which the hospital obviously had worked hard to streamline by making it easy to register in advance by telephone. And I have to say that it worked, because people now can bypass the main desk in the lobby and go directly to the department they need, where the line is either quite short or non-existent.

Despite this, a certain percentage of patients unfortunately learn at the counter that their registration is incomplete, and that they cannot be checked in. Here’s where it gets interesting – not because the hospital’s error rate is more than 0% (most organizations’ are), but because the department staff is not authorized to view the patient record in order to capture the missing information.

To solve the problem, affected patients instead are directed to an adjacent alcove that contains a few chairs, a telephone, and a sign displaying the number to dial to complete the registration process. One quick call later, the blanks are filled in and the patients are on their way, their fear of being sent back downstairs to the main desk having been assuaged, and their appointments having been kept on time.

That this side process even exists tells me that incomplete registrations are a recurring challenge for this particular institution. But rather than dwell on the issue, I prefer to celebrate the resolution, which involved the formulation of an effective workaround that is quick and painless to both patients and staff. And I encourage you to pursue the same kind of creative thinking.

What’s been your experience with bypassing roadblocks that you couldn’t directly dismantle? What was the circumstance, and how well did it work? Were you ever able to remove the barrier and make the workaround unnecessary? Let us know by leaving a comment or via the social media links below.

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