'Learning Exchange' promotes staff awareness

Employees walk in others' shoes

A Six Sigma project involving four different departments was the impetus for a "Learning Exchange and Appreciation Program" (LEAP) that allows patient financial services employees at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center to "walk in the other person's shoes" and gain a better understanding of the way things are done outside their own work area.

While it's more typical for Six Sigma projects to have participants in one, or maybe two, departments, a recent patient financial services initiative included staff from four, says Margaret Currie-Coyoy, Medicaid program specialist, who led the project as part of her requirements for becoming a green belt.

The departments represented were the ED, patient financial resources, admissions, and verification quality services, she adds.

During that experience, "we found there was a need for some awareness of each group's individual process," she notes. "For example, when the financial counseling group received a defective account from the ED group, they might have questioned why it was done that way."

In the ED, on the other hand, Currie-Coyoy says, "maybe there was not as much awareness of who is receiving those accounts and what they will be needing — that they could benefit from having [an explanatory note] on the account."

As the project progressed, she says, team members made comments such as, "Wouldn't it be great if this person could come and see what I do, sit with me, and see everything I face?"

The discussion that ensued led to having two ED staff members sit with a financial counselor and a Medicaid worker for a couple of hours, Currie-Coyoy continues. "They talked about their roles, their responsibilities, what they did on a daily basis, and how they gathered information."

The latter two employees then took a turn sitting with a registrar in the ED, to get a feel for the different scenarios that arise in that area, she says.

All of the people who participated in the work exchange weren't necessarily on the Six Sigma team that met each week, Currie-Coyoy adds, "but they were willing to participate, were aware of the project, and we got their input."

In March 2006 — about midway through the Six Sigma pilot looking at more quickly identifying patients initially listed as self-pay but later found to have insurance — Currie-Coyoy and the team put together a proposal calling for the creation of LEAP, she says. (See excerpt.)

"Our idea is for everyone to eventually be a part of it," Currie-Coyoy says. "We're all affected by what each department does."