At Seattle (WA) Children’s Hospital, a quality improvement analyst position was created just for patient access.

“He’s embedded within the operational team, so he has a clear understanding of our data and local software,” says Sarah Thomas, director of patient access. “He quickly translates our data needs into his technical databases and tools.”

The analyst often generates same-day reports to answer key strategic and operational questions. Because the department already has made many changes to improve efficiency, however, there is no more “low-hanging fruit.” This efficiency makes continued improvement more challenging. ‘We’ve got to really dig into the details to understand the correlation in our variables,” says Thomas.

The department uses data visualization software from Seattle-based Tableau Software to create graphs and charts. “It gives us such a great tool for dicing and slicing the data to better identify improvement opportunities,” says Thomas. The data analyst taught the patient access management team how to use the software to improve their departments.

“The data visualizations display supply and demand, and track progress over time,” says Jason Chang, the department’s quality improvement analyst. The visuals highlight areas in need of improvement, and they allow leaders to monitor progress. Here are some ways the department benefits from the data analyst position:

• A dashboard is updated weekly to provide visuals to show how well the department is performing.

“This is helping us better understand each other’s needs and the impact of our efforts,” says Thomas.

• The data analyst acts as a conduit to the hospital’s information technology partners.

“He understands the language of databases and reporting at an infrastructure level, not just the reports that we as management are trained to use,” says Thomas.

• Better data allows patient access to balance the demand for specialty services with the capacity in the system.

To predict wait times, patient access needs to know how many slots are open and how many referrals there are. Jennifer Becker, vice president of ambulatory services at Seattle (WA) Children’s Hospital, says, “Making that visible has been a really important body of work.”

Recently, the data showed a drastic spike in referral volumes for a specific specialty. “Seeing this new demand raised the question of what was happening in the landscape of the specialty,” says Chang. He discovered that an established specialist in the community had retired, which resulted in a flood of patients seeking care. “Seeing the data week to week helped to identify abnormalities in referral patterns for the specialty. It assisted in the preparation for the unexpected demand,” says Chang.

One clinic wasn’t routinely filling its appointment slots, measured as a percentage of utilization, but it still had access delays of several weeks. “The clinic head was feeling frustrated that the measure might be wrong or that maybe we weren’t being effective in scheduling,” says Thomas.

Data revealed that one provider was bringing down the group’s average.

“This allowed the chief to focus her efforts on expanding the training of that provider, improve access for their patients, and bring up their utilization,” says Thomas.



Jason Chang, Quality Improvement Analyst, Seattle (WA) Children’s Hospital. Phone: (206) 884-2814.