Wellmont Empowers Co-workers to Earn Extra Income by Proposing Ideas that Cut Costs, Enhance Patient Care

Innovative thinking by co-workers is saving Wellmont Health System hundreds of thousands of dollars and enabling these cost-conscious staff members to earn some hard-earned additional income.

Recently, Wellmont awarded nearly $5,000 to Joylene Steinmann for her idea to reduce the health system's expenses. It was the latest example of employees finding ways to help Wellmont curb costs, which is always important but becoming even more essential during this era of healthcare reform. The suggestions by the last two winners will save Wellmont about $110,000 a year.

Steinmann, who was clinical leader of Holston Valley Medical Center's postanesthesia unit and is now clinical application coordinator for Wellmont's electronic health record initiative, noticed duplication of some items in surgical kits and catheterization kits that were being used in orthopedic surgeries and femoral nerve catheterizations.

When items are duplicated, the extras are disposed. Steinmann was able to work with Wellmont's supply chain professionals to order catheterization kits without the duplicate items.

These winning ideas are part of a program introduced two years ago called Wellmont Employee Suggestion. This initiative offers staff members the opportunity to submit ideas for cost savings, safety enhancements and patient satisfaction.

If an employee's idea tests well and is implemented, he or she can receive a financial incentive. Employees with ideas leading to cost savings are eligible to earn a portion of the extra cost savings, up to $5,000 per idea.

"Our co-workers have tremendous ideas and great solutions that have advanced the quality of care in our health system to the next level," said Hamlin Wilson, Wellmont's senior vice president of human resources. "They are empowered to develop innovative approaches, and the WES program provides a process where they can communicate these ideas to a team of people who are excited to hear from them."

Steinmann considers finding cost savings and efficiencies part of her job - and she was pleasantly surprised to be rewarded through WES.

"As a clinical leader, my goal was to provide the best patient care and look for inefficiencies," Steinmann said. "I found this duplication of supplies and simply questioned if there was a better way. I was not expecting recognition."

Steinmann said she is not finished looking for suggestions to reduce costs and enhance patient outcomes. She also agrees that given the changing healthcare landscape, co-workers will have more opportunities to offer suggestions that make a difference.

Wilson said change is a constant in health care and everyone involved in the process has to be willing to consider the delivery method in a new way.

"The healthcare environment requires a great deal of innovation and novel thinking," he said. "Ideas generated through WES have reduced expenses related to providing care. In many cases, they have improved quality of care, and that clearly benefits patients.

"WES allows us to get ideas for improvement directly from the source. Who knows better than the people working with patients what will help them provide better patient care?"