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A guide to project management in healthcare

Last updated

27 June 2023

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The healthcare industry is rapidly expanding and evolving. Project management in healthcare companies is a major factor in improving the organization and processes of medical facilities. 

What is project management in healthcare?

Owners, managers, and other stakeholders in the healthcare industry must contend with many factors, such as maximizing patient well-being, lowering costs, keeping up with the latest procedures, and managing various complex projects. Project management in healthcare is a system designed to improve the quality and efficiency of medical facilities. 

The goals of better management of healthcare projects include:

  • Creating policies that improve patient care

  • Recognizing risks and preventing as many potential problems as possible

  • Managing costs

  • Supporting more cooperation and better relationships between stakeholders

What is a project?

While the word seems straightforward, it's necessary to have a clear idea of exactly what a "project" is before you can formulate a healthcare project strategy. Every organization needs to define for itself what constitutes a project. 

Here are some points to consider that will help in defining a project:

  • There’s a difference between a task and a project. A project is generally a series of related tasks to achieve a certain outcome. 

  • A goal or objective is not a project. For example, cutting costs, improving patient outcomes, or other goals are not in themselves projects. You may implement projects to attain these goals.

  • A project needs scope and deadline. In addition to a deadline for the entire project, there should be milestones for tasks that allow you to track progress. 

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The importance of project management in healthcare 

Project management in healthcare is critical for a number of reasons.

High stakes

The stakes are higher in healthcare than in most other industries. The lives and well-being of patients depend on healthcare providers being able to function at their best. Implementing successful projects can have a direct impact on the quality of patient care.

Healthcare is always evolving

Technology and medical treatments are rapidly advancing, which creates the need for constantly updated guidelines and procedures. Project management helps to keep everyone up to date and on the same page.

Litigation risks

More than most industries, healthcare organizations face the risk of litigation. Lawsuits can be based on many factors, such as poor patient care, incorrect medications or doses, or the misuse of patient data. Project management helps to ensure that clear, consistent, and ethical processes are in place, reducing the risk of litigation.

Benefits of project management

While each project has its own specific goal, there are certain advantages that many projects offer. 

Improving the quality of care

Project management can improve the efficiency of healthcare operations and the overall quality of patient care. Quality improvement in healthcare includes improved record documentation, better coordination between departments, fewer errors in medication administration, and a reduction in hospital readmissions. 

Budgeting 

Setting and staying within budgets is a major concern for hospitals and healthcare companies. One purpose of project management is to set a budget for every project and to ensure you stay within the limits of the budget at every stage.

Improved communication 

The modern healthcare system is large and complex, involving people in multiple roles with their own needs and perspectives. Multiple doctors, nurses, and therapists are typically involved with each patient's treatment. 

A key aspect of project management is creating clear lines of communication between all the professionals involved in medical care. It's crucial that everyone is on the same page and fully understands their responsibilities at every stage of a process.

Strategic planning 

Project management keeps you on track when it comes to planning, ensuring that you stay on schedule and complete each step of the project. You can also optimize the processes you use to help you plan better for future projects. 

Reporting and stakeholder relations 

Depending on the size of your organization and who is monitoring your activities, you may need to track metrics such as budget, patients served, results of medical procedures, equipment usage, and other information. 

When you have a clear project management strategy in place, you can track your progress and report results to the appropriate stakeholders. For example, if you use software that tracks KPIs for projects, you can send reports to the hospital board and other stakeholders.

How does project management work? 

In order to successfully carry out a project to completion, you must first map out the stages you need to implement. While each project is a little different, they can all be broken down into four basic stages.

Initiate the project 

During this stage, you define the purpose and scope of the project. This includes:

  • Defining the objectives and scope of the project 

  • Determining the tools and resources you'll need

  • Identifying stakeholders. You need to know who has an interest in the project, who may be funding it, and who you need to inform of the project's progress.

  • Setting the budget

Plan the project 

  • Define each stage of the project

  • Assemble the team. Assign tasks and responsibilities. Make sure everyone is clear on their role and is supplied with the resources they need.

  • Set deadlines for tasks

  • Create milestones for different stages of the project

Execute the project 

During the execution phase, the tasks are actually completed and progress is tracked.

  • Keep the team on track. Hold regular meetings where progress is updated.

  • Identify obstacles and challenges. These may include delays, conflicts between team members, or technological glitches. Make tactical changes as needed.

  • Monitor the budget. Use project budget tracking to notify you in the event of overspending. 

  • Track results and report to stakeholders

Close the project 

After the project, you assess what you accomplished and whether you met the objectives. By tracking your results, you can learn from any mistakes and develop a more effective strategy moving forward. 

Healthcare project management techniques 

The following are some of the most effective techniques for healthcare project management. 

Waterfall project management 

The waterfall method is an approach that breaks projects down into clearly defined steps from start to finish. Gantt Charts are often used for clarity and to track progress. Projects are typically divided into five phases:

  1. Planning – Identifying project goals, researching, understanding stakeholder expectations, and assigning roles for project tasks

  2. Designing the project – During this phase, the actual steps of the project are identified and listed. This may involve meetings, brainstorming, and comparing the merits of competing ideas. Once you’ve decided on the tasks, you’ll create a schedule and workflow.

  3. Implementation – Team members work on the tasks needed to complete the project. As the project is implemented, you track progress, identify any problems, and report the results to stakeholders.

  4. Verification – Once the project is complete, results need to be verified. Compare results to expectations, and identify challenges and glitches. Following the verification process, correct problems as needed. 

  5. Maintenance – Certain aspects of the project may require ongoing maintenance. For example, if you use software, there may be a need to update it or debug it. 

Agile project management 

Agile project management is another popular approach often used in the healthcare industry. While the waterfall approach takes a step-by-step approach, agile project management uses an iterative approach that emphasizes constant adjustments in response to changing conditions. 

There are four main principles in agile project management:

  • Prioritizing individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Working software over extensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration

  • Responding to change over following a predetermined plan

Agile values are often used in the software industry. However, its principles can be applied to other areas such as healthcare. For example, customer collaboration translates into working closely with patients. 

Physician Leadership describes how the Mayo Clinic successfully implemented this method. Their abstract provides some insight into the differences between the agile and waterfall methods. 

They describe how the agile practices "sprints," where teams focus intently on a task for short periods of two weeks or a month. At the end of the sprint, there's an opportunity to analyze the results and make any necessary adjustments. For example, using the agile approach to build a healthcare website would mean getting a version of the site online even if all of the features weren’t ready. 

The waterfall approach would involve planning every detail and mapping everything out before building the site. The agile approach, however, would build a version of the site as soon as possible and make changes along the way. The advantage of using this method is that work can proceed more quickly.

Hybrid approach 

The hybrid approach combines aspects of the waterfall and agile project management strategies. The advantage of the hybrid approach is that it can combine the best features of waterfall and agile. 

Physician Leadership describes how a hybrid approach works in the healthcare industry. As they explain, the waterfall approach is useful for setting up the basic timeline of a project. This can be balanced by using techniques such as sprints to allow for more flexibility.

Taking a pragmatic view of healthcare project management

What’s the best project management style for healthcare? Every organization, as well as every project, is different and needs to identify the best approach for its own needs. However, many modern organizations find that the hybrid approach is best. 

A hybrid project management approach is pragmatic in that it means considering the needs of a particular project rather than being attached to a specific project management style such as waterfall or agile. 

Project management jobs in healthcare 

Healthcare project management is a career that's expected to grow in the coming years. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for medical and health service managers is projected to grow 28% between 2021 and 2031, placing them in the "much faster than average" category. 

There are several reasons why demand for this profession is growing. The medical field as a whole is a rapidly expanding sector. COVID-19 accelerated the need for qualified managers to deal with issues such as emergency preparedness and keeping up with new and frequently changing laws, policies, and regulations.

What is the average salary for a healthcare project manager? 

According to Salary.com, the average salary for a healthcare project manager in the United States is $74,598, with a range between $65,959 and $83,918.

Educational requirements for healthcare project managers 

If you want to become a healthcare project manager, you’ll require a Bachelor's or MBA in healthcare management. 

If you have a degree in another field, you could consider a certificate in healthcare project management, such as Certified Project Manager Professional (CPMP) certification. Six Sigma certification (part of the lean methodology) is also helpful.

Skills and qualifications needed for a career in healthcare project management

Analytic, organizational, and time management skills

A project manager needs to be able to sift through data, identify the organization's greatest needs, put together the most productive teams, and plan the timeline and scope of projects. 

Problem-solving skills

Healthcare projects are implemented to achieve goals and solve problems. As a project manager, you need to be able to identify issues that need addressing. You also need to be able to troubleshoot problems that arise during projects. 

Communication and leadership skills

As a project manager, you need to communicate with multiple departments and stakeholders. You also need to be able to inspire team members and provide them with guidance.

Responsibilities of project managers

  • Manage projects, assign tasks, and set timelines. This includes forming teams, delegating responsibilities, breaking down projects into tasks and subtasks, and setting milestones.

  • Troubleshooting obstacles that may arise during the project. When necessary, pivoting and making changes in strategy.

  • Communicate with team members and stakeholders, keeping them informed on project progress.

Healthcare project management best practices 

Here are some project management best practices to keep in mind.

  • Assign projects to a dedicated health information manager (HIM) or another qualified professional who can oversee projects and communicate with all teams.

  • Create a clear plan for the project that identifies the scope, budget, goals, and deadlines. In keeping with agile values, you may need to make adjustments along the way. However, there should always be a blueprint that keeps everyone on course.

  • Maintain clear communications. Teams and stakeholders should keep one another informed on all pertinent developments. Lags in communication or silos where information isn't freely shared between teams can cause mistakes, delays, or redundancies. 

  • Apply standardized processes to all tasks and projects. Everyone should be clear about the proper procedures to follow. This makes it easier for individuals and teams to communicate, makes the process of onboarding new employees smoother, and improves productivity. 

  • Use the appropriate project management tools. Regardless of which project management techniques are applied, certain tools are required to carry out tasks. Project management software can help with tasks such as planning projects, managing the budget, resource allocation, risk management, and more.

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