Integrating Six Sigma with total quality management: a case example for measuring medication errors

J Healthc Manag. 2003 Nov-Dec;48(6):377-91; discussion 392.


Six Sigma is a new management philosophy that seeks a nonexistent error rate. It is ripe for healthcare because many healthcare processes require a near-zero tolerance for mistakes. For most organizations, establishing a Six Sigma program requires significant resources and produces considerable stress. However, in healthcare, management can piggyback Six Sigma onto current total quality management (TQM) efforts so that minimal disruption occurs in the organization. Six Sigma is an extension of the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis that is required by JCAHO; it can easily be integrated into existing quality management efforts. Integrating Six Sigma into the existing TQM program facilitates process improvement through detailed data analysis. A drilled-down approach to root-cause analysis greatly enhances the existing TQM approach. Using the Six Sigma metrics, internal project comparisons facilitate resource allocation while external project comparisons allow for benchmarking. Thus, the application of Six Sigma makes TQM efforts more successful. This article presents a framework for including Six Sigma in an organization's TQM plan while providing a concrete example using medication errors. Using the process defined in this article, healthcare executives can integrate Six Sigma into all of their TQM projects.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Hospital Administration / standards*
  • Humans
  • Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
  • Management Quality Circles
  • Medication Errors / prevention & control
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Models, Organizational
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Process Assessment, Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Systems Integration
  • Total Quality Management / organization & administration*
  • United States