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5 Surprising Hospital Workflow Lessons Learned from the World Cup

Posted by Bill Nussdorfer on Jul 1, 2014 12:11:00 PM

In Hospital Operations Management, Equipment Hoarding, Capital Planning

Today is the day.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a part of the small but passionate group of American soccer fans. With so many other strong US professional sports teams, it has been difficult to keep up with the various club soccer teams. But every four years, my World Series, Super Bowl, and Stanley Cup comes around. All of a sudden, America comes together as One Nation, One Team.  


With soccer consuming most of my thoughts the last few weeks, I've found myself constantly discovering parallels between my experience watching the United States progress through the first round of the World Cup, and working to help take hospital workflows to the next level. Check out these five surprising hospital workflow lessons that can be learned from watching the 2014 World Cup. 

1. The Path to Success Isn’t Always What it Seems – It’s All About the Big Picture

When the United States lost to Germany in their third and final match of the group stage, many fans were left wondering why Americans were celebrating a loss.  As it turns out, Germany had already qualified, and it was a combination of points tallied over all the games played so far that would determine which of the remaining three teams of the group (USA, Ghana, and Portugal) would advance.  In the end, it was Portugal’s victory over Ghana that pushed the USA into the next round and the loss to Germany was effectively irrelevant.  In soccer, they call this “playing for a result”.  The US entered the game with Germany with dozens of possible scenarios which would advance them to the next round and quite a few in which they wouldn’t.  Playing the odds, the US committed to a game plan that was likely to earn them the overall result they needed to advance, even if it wasn’t the result that their fans really wanted.                      

Like it is for nations competing in the World Cup, the end goal for mobile equipment management is clear, but there are many ways to accomplish it. Before jumping into an overall game plan, you want to be sure to have the big picture in mind.  Ask yourself, “How do we 'advance' into the next round of operational efficiency without risking too much?”  The important thing is to keep the organization’s goals in mind, and start with low risk, high reward improvements that fix operational workflow.  

2. It’s Never Too Late for a Comeback

Is there anything worse than assuming you have a game in the bag, just to be proven wrong in the final seconds? Ask any USA Soccer fan about Game #2 vs. Portugal and you will be answered with a cringing face and maybe a few tears. Moral of the story? No matter how dire the situation, it’s not over until it’s over; especially when you’re competing against Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Similarly within a hospital, it is all too common for departments to unknowingly admit defeat when faced with the challenge of operational efficiency. As Portugal proved to the US, and teams continue to prove on a daily basis in the World Cup, no matter how bad the current situation, or process, there is always opportunity for a comeback. You may even have already tried a few different strategies to get that last minute goal, but haven’t found that breakthrough.  Focus on the fundamentals and don’t give up.  Tenacity in addressing workflow inefficiencies is the key to improving even the ugliest operational processes.

3. Don’t Hate the Playah…

Everyone’s biggest complaint when watching the World Cup is all of the diving - it hurts the integrity (and even legitimacy) of the game, and is painful to watch.  So, why do players want their highlight reels filled with fake injuries and phantom thrown elbows? Because flops lead to free kicks, and free kicks lead to goals.  When the rules reward bad behavior, you can’t hate the player, you can only hate the game.


If you stop to think about why medical equipment gets lost, stolen and hidden in all kinds of places, you get the same answer: it works. The current “rules” of an inefficient workflow make it more efficient for everyone to take the situation into his or her own hands.  As a result, some of the most painful workflow inefficiencies proliferate.  But you can’t hate the player.  Instead, you have to change the game.  And that means establishing a reliable, workflow process in place, that builds trust among nurses, patient support, materials and all of the other players and actually makes their lives easier (and improves compliance in the process).  

4. Make the Most of Your Resources – They’re Limited!

Each nation that qualified for the World Cup is allowed to bring 23 potential players to the tournament, regardless of any injuries or suspensions that occur while in Brazil.  For the United States, that meant finding players outside the country’s local Major League Soccer (MLS) network.  The result for the U.S. is nearly one-third of the roster having dual citizenship, and less than half playing their daily grind on American soil.  In fact, the US coach Jurgen Klinsmann went so far as to make the very unpopular decision to leave Landon Donavan, for many the “face” of US soccer home for the World Cup.  This was largely because in the system that Jurgen designed, and according to his real time game data about his options, Landon wasn’t a good fit.  So Jurgen replaced Landon with younger, more flexible resources that would be more effective in the heat of Brazil.  So far it looks like the right move.

In healthcare, the idea of getting the most from your resources through increased efficiency and utilization isn’t new, but has recently become a necessity across the board.  Hospitals are being forced to cut costs, and budgets for equipment continue to shift toward replacement and reallocation rather than new purchases.  Like Jurgen, it may be time to take a hard look at what your resources and to leverage your real time operational data to help make the right call as to what equipment may need to be replaced.  In many cases, data analytics tools assist with determination of what equipment truly needs replacing.

5. Money Can’t Buy Happiness

Throwing money at a situation rarely has an impact on its own.  In this year’s World Cup, the three highest paid coaches, Fabio Capello (Russia), Roy Hodgson (England), and Cesare Prandelli (Italy) were eliminated from the tournament without advancing past the group stage.  Apparently it takes more than a well-paid coach to play quality soccer.

Hospitals often find themselves up against similar temptations.  Buzz from technology vendors and industry leaders often suggest that applying the latest trendy high-tech solutions or engaging costly consultants will easily provide cost savings and ROI, but the truth is that these solutions won’t work if they are only automating broken workflow.  Core processes need to be analyzed before technology can be implemented to support it, and any improvement to workflow must be constrained and tracked to have lasting success.

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Bonus: Never, Under Any Circumstances, Resort to Biting


It's just not a good look.


Just in case you still need motivation to watch the #USMNT #BeatBelgium this afternoon, check out the motivational video below: