Reducing surgical cancellations: a successful application of Lean Six Sigma in healthcare

S. Schretlen*, P. Hoefsmit, S. Kats, G. van Merode, J. Maessen, R. Zandbergen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective The COVID-19 pandemic emphasises the need to use healthcare resources efficient and effective to guarantee access to high-quality healthcare in an affordable manner. Surgical cancellations have a negative impact on these. We used the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology to reduce cardiac surgical cancellations in a University Medical Center in the Netherlands, where approximately 20% of cardiac surgeries were being cancelled. Method A multifunctional project team used the data-driven LSS process improvement methodology and followed the 'DMAIC' improvement cycle (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control). Through all DMAIC phases, real-world data from the hospital information system supported the team during biweekly problem-solving sessions. This quality improvement study used an 'interrupted time series' study design. Data were collected between January 2014 and December 2016, covering 20 months prior and 16 months after implementation. Outcomes were number of last-minute coronary artery bypass graft cancellations, number of repeated diagnostics, referral to treatment time and patient satisfaction. Statistical process control charts visualised the change and impact over time. Students two-sample t-test was used to test statistical significance. A pResults Last-minute cancellations were reduced by 50% (p=0.010), repeated preoperative diagnostics (X-ray) declined by 67% (p=0.021), referral to treatment time reduced by 35% (p=0.000) and patient Net Promoter Score increased by 14% (p=0.005). Conclusion This study shows that LSS is an effective quality improvement approach to help healthcare organisations to deliver more safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and patient-centred care. Crucial success factors were the use of a structured data-driven problem-solving approach, focus on patient value and process flow, leadership support and engagement of involved healthcare professionals through the entire care pathway. Ongoing monitoring of key performance indicators is helpful in engaging the organisation to maintain continuous process improvement and sustaining long-term impact.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere001342
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open Quality
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • quality improvement
  • lean management
  • six sigma
  • root cause analysis
  • surgery

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