Seattle Children’s Dashboard Influences Wait Times, C-Suite

by   |   September 17, 2014 5:30 am   |   0 Comments

In 2010, staffers at Seattle Children’s hospital set an ambitious goal: Cut the wait times of patients needing appointments to just seven days. On the surface, this may seem a fairly straightforward goal, but it turned out to be much more complex.

Although they made some improvements through 2013, they reached a point in the process at which all the low-hanging fruit had been plucked. To get the 14-day wait that patients experienced down to seven was going to take a much greater effort than they first envisioned. To achieve this goal, they were going to need data. And not just numbers on a page, but data that would tell a story that the hospital’s executives and directors could use to change the way they did business.

“Our goal was to produce one report that was able to be viewed by our executives so they could get a high-level, roll-up perspective on what we doing around our metric, which was a single metric for the entire organization but was also drillable down to the provider level,” Paula Holmes, senior director, Growth Initiatives & Business Ops, Seattle Children’s, told an audience of 150 attendees at Tableau’s 2014 user’s conference in Seattle.

To go from the spreadsheet they had been using, which showed only a single number representing the median days wait (MDW), to a dashboard that told a story meant that would have to bring together all of the hospital’s stakeholders and embark on a six-month project to understand what data was needed and how it would be used.

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The result, called the Inventory Access Dashboard, was the hospital’s most productive dashboarding project to date.

“This dashboard was incredibly successful,” said Holmes. “As soon as we made it go live, it was the highest used dashboard in the operations side of our business. That’s because people were just crying for this data because we were holding them accountable. We built a tool that gave them perspective on the whole issue.”

After identifying a vice president as their executive sponsor – a very important step to get past the inevitable roadblocks that would be put in their way – they then decided on which metrics they were going to use.

“We helped our leadership understand that you really have to understand the nuances of data in order to make sure that what you are implementing in operational improvements is going to make a difference,” Holmes said.

The most important metric, and the one everyone is working to improve, MDW, occupies the most important real estate on the dashboard: up high and to the left. But they also included no-shows, 24-hour notice cancellations, referral volume, new versus returning appointments, and capacity, or the number of doctors available to see patients. On the left rail of the dashboard, each specialty being represented is identified.

“This view really came out of the fact that, if I were manager, how would I know how to fix the problem?” said Seattle Children’s Data Scientist Tim Grieb. “Where do you focus your effort?”

Because the whole point of a dashboard is to get people to use it, it was very important to receive feedback on the design and metrics from users. In addition, the dashboard is emailed to every stakeholder every Monday morning. It is also displayed prominently in the lobby of the C-suite on a poster board so “everyone sees it, every day,” said Holmes. This way no one can say they haven’t seen the data, and they know how well their efforts are working. That’s a far cry from a single spreadsheet that went out just once a month with five-week-old data cobbled together by hand from four other reports.

“Honestly, what it has done most is help (our executives) understand the influencers to access,” said Holmes. “So as we talk about whether we are meeting the goal, it helps drive the work. For example, all of this helped us understand where we have capacity gaps, and what it came down to in many cases was providers.”

Because of this realization, which only was reached because of the dashboard, direct action was taken to hire more providers in those specialties and thereby increase capacity while reducing MDW.

Just as importantly, the dashboard also showed that in other specialty areas, they would never be able to reduce MDW because of the nature of the work. Required procedures for newborns, for example, are often put off until the fifth or sixth months of life and, therefore, the MDW of those departments is always going to be on the high side.

“This dashboard helped move the organization from basically almost no data to having this available all the time,” said Holmes. “When you go from nothing to something that is very useful, it results in a lot of positive energy.”

Now a freelance writer, in a former, not-too-distant life, Allen Bernard was the managing editor of and numerous other technology websites. Since 2000, Allen has written, assigned, and edited thousands of articles that focus on the intersection of technology and business. As well as content marketing and PR, he now writes for Data Informed and other high-quality publications. Originally from the Boston area, Allen now calls Columbus, Ohio, home. He can be reached at 614-937-2316 or Please follow him on Twitter at @allen_bernard1, on Google+ or on LinkedIn.

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