How process mining in healthcare can save lives

The application of process mining techniques offers healthcare professionals insight into how to optimize the most critical and time-sensitive processes, improve productivity and reduce costs

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Adam Jeffs

According to the Process Mining Manifesto produced by the IEEE Task Force, “the idea of process mining is to discover, monitor and improve processes”. Although process mining (PM) is a relatively young discipline, we have already seen the benefits it can offer to organizations looking to enhance their process efficiency or reduce costs. For this reason it is no surprise that researchers are now looking into the viability of applying the technique in a healthcare environment, as cost and productivity are always key metrics for healthcare organizations.

As the concept is so new, research into the efficacy of PM for healthcare processes is still very much ongoing. In the Journal of Biomedical Informatics, a literature review analyzing the present state of research into PM for healthcare by Eric Rojas et al., sought to identify the most common emerging topics and themes, as well as future trends. The review found that Europe was leading the way in the application of PM for healthcare, with 73% of current research being conducted on the continent.

Healthcare processes are ideal for the application of PM as they are increasingly dynamic, complex and multidisciplinary, as evidenced in the research conducted by Payam Homayounfar in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library. The time-sensitive, critical nature of healthcare processes also makes them ideal candidates for PM. Research into this field is also providing businesses outside of the healthcare sphere with useful insights into the ways that PM can optimize important processes, such as reducing time-taken or costs for a specific process.

PM in healthcare is easily possible due to the advent of hospital information systems that store data for all interactions in hospital processes and, as such, are able to produce readily available event logs. As discussed in Process Mining: Discovery, Conformance and Enhancement of Business Processes, a book by Professor Wil van der Aalst who is often called the ‘godfather of process mining’, the traditional method for PM follows the framework of process discovery, conformance checking and finally enhancement. This is how we have seen PM implemented in healthcare, with process models initially generated and compared against event logs to monitor deviations before enhancing the process by removing bottlenecks or suggesting alternative actions.

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As anticipated, the application of PM in healthcare has had significant benefits. A process improvement team in a general hospital in the Netherlands successfully reduced patients’ time spent in hospital for a hip replacement by 50%, from six days to three. Such successes can offer reassurance for those organizations outside of the healthcare field who are considering the application of PM, as healthcare processes are some of the most complex, dynamic and critical in the world, to the extent that low productivity could cost lives.

Knowing that PM works well for such advanced and multifaceted processes can offer business leaders some confidence that PM initiatives can achieve acceptable returns on investment for their own processes and this confidence will only increase as PM becomes more prevalent in the healthcare field.