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Expert Excerpts: Ann Colbourne on Process Improvement in Healthcare - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Whether you’re just starting your Lean Six Sigma journey, or you’re in the middle of improving a process, guidance from Experts can help make your efforts easier – and more successful! In this Expert Excerpt, we interview Expert Dr. Ann Colbourne, who shares key insights to being successful with Process Improvement in Healthcare.

Ann Colbourne of Alberta was the Senior Medical Director of Culture, Transformation and Innovation at the Alberta Health Services. She was also the Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta. Ann has served in a variety of roles as a clinician, academic and health care leader including work at the Mayo Clinic, Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Canadian Diabetes Association. In 2011, she received the Mayo Clinic Plummer Society Award of Excellence, as the first woman and the first international recipient of the award. Ann holds an MD, BMedSc and BSc in Biochemistry from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and an MA in Theology from the University of Oxford.

You’ve dedicated your life to transforming healthcare services for at least a decade – what got you started down this path?

This evolved organically over a lifetime. I would say there were two main influencers: 1. a belief that I can make a difference, and 2. annoying repetitive system dysfunction impeding my ability to serve. My recurrent questions were simply, “What’s going on?” and “What can I do to make this better?”

What advice would you give process improvement practitioners who are getting started in Healthcare?

Articulate your passion and your focus. What is it that matters to you? When you think about it, what is “it” that occupies your thinking? What do you see as possible? Be curious and open. Activate and strengthen your resilience attributes and show up! Find ways to make a difference every day – as an individual, as a team member, as a system influencer and leader.
Engage in a periodic review of your passion and goals. Life’s experiences shape our paths in ways that sometimes are hard to predict. Priorities and foci may shift over time. Be intentional in your efforts. The most important ingredient in improvement efforts is showing up and contributing. If there are particular technical skills that would enhance your participation, seek out opportunities to acquire and practice those skills.

The most important ingredient in improvement efforts is showing up and contributing.

Do you have any pet peeves related to improving Healthcare processes?

My absolute pet peeve is the disconnect between words and deeds. Healthcare environments may be passive aggressive complaining cultures in which some think that the complaint articulates the focus for change. If my words and my actions create dissonance because my words advocate for change but my actions perpetuate current state, then I am incoherent in what I say and what I do. If I simply enjoy complaining but am not willing to be part of the solution, then I may be part of the problem. Metaphorically, to get from here to there, I need to move. Ready?

In an industry that prides itself on use of evidence for desirable clinical outcomes I am struck by emotional commentary void of evidence that impedes meaningful engagement in systems level improvement. System level improvement endeavors are akin to care for the whole person and human physiology. There is a complexity to embrace. There is evidence to use. There are desirable and measurable outcomes. In healthcare, if we can help clinicians experience the analogy of system improvement activity as being the same as the clinical method, then we are well on our way in collaboration.

What are some common mistakes you see people making when trying to innovate?

The ultimate mistake is seeking the perfect solution before acting. With goal clarity and risk awareness, set the parameters for tests of change that can start movement in a desirable direction. In high stakes situations, testing scenarios through table top or simulation environments can mitigate the risk and further explore the depths of where you want to go. Embrace all outcomes as valuable learning. In safe ways – try and try again.

Embrace all outcomes as valuable learning. In safe ways – try and try again.

In competitive environments, thinking that successful innovation is an individual sport. How systems reward and recognize contributions may drive individual rather than collaborative effort. Individuals need to experience that they not only add value but that they are valued as individuals. If I need to personally experience appreciation for my contribution, the system needs to be able to not only recognize me but my effort with others to deliver magic. Be sure to involve all with a stake in the innovation. Actively seek ideas, input and effort – build the coalition for change.

Seeking the magic elixir which most often seems to express itself as engaging the external expert to tell us what to do. The magic elixir for innovation is drawing upon the strengths of your own community, context and competence.

Is there anyone that has significantly influenced you over the years?

There are many, but I will name three:

  • Dr. D. Wallace Ingram for modeling curiosity, perspective and care for the whole person.
  • Dr. Peter J. Roberts for mentoring leadership, complex system management and care for whole communities.
  • Dr. Henry J Schultz for creating opportunities to grow in medical leadership, lifelong learning and complex adaptive change.

What’s something exciting that you recently worked on?

Over the past nine years, creating and implementing a complex change adaptive collaborative platform in Canada’s largest publicly funded health care system. This platform fundamentally invests in people to enhance three domains of core competence: person-centeredness, collaborative team function, quality management. The impact is primarily in domains of experience, access and flow and ongoing improvement activities. The original prototype community became a generative care community and continue to lead in using mature quality management methods to continue to improve overall experience for all. This effort has just transitioned from project to operations and should adapt nicely to a variety of clinical settings and care communities across the whole health continuum.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I have a passion for nature and all living things. I am most content when I am in a quiet space outdoors with my terriers. I am taking a break from work and actively thinking about what comes next. Stay tuned!

Have a question for Ann? Please feel free to ask in the comments below.

Ann Colbourne

Ann Colbourne of Alberta was the Senior Medical Director of Culture, Transformation and Innovation at the Alberta Health Services. She was also the Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta. Ann has served in a variety of roles as a clinician, academic and health care leader including work at the Mayo Clinic, Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Canadian Diabetes Association. In 2011, she received the Mayo Clinic Plummer Society Award of Excellence, as the first woman and the first international recipient of the award. Ann holds an MD, BMedSc and BSc in Biochemistry from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and an MA in Theology from the University of Oxford.