Oct 15, 2009

Capacity planning and community health

Are you thinking about getting a flu shot to protect against the ordinary seasonal flu, or are you distracted by all the talk about H1N1? People with flu symptoms in the coming months are going to test the capacity of the healthcare system. And why, if it's so easy to prevent? Not only do you protect yourself from being sick, but you eliminate yourself as an infection vector with the potential to geometrically increase the number of flu victims.

Last year was the first time I got a flu shot. It's inconvenient. You have to find out where to get one. You have to let someone hurt you. It's easy to procrastinate.

You don't know if you have to make an appointment with your doctor to get your shot. Do you go to the county health department immunization clinic? Can you get one at the drugstore or the grocery store.

What day is flu shot day? What time? What will it cost?

This year, Target created capacity and customer service by offering flu and pneumonia shots at their pharmacies. I called to ask when they'd be giving them, and the pharmacist said, "Whenever you want."

So today I went there, not wanting to trade viruses with hundreds of people at the AME conference next week. It was mid-morning and no other customers were waiting at the pharmacy counter. An associate responded to my request right away. It did take time -- I don't know how value-added it was -- to fill in a customer health questionnaire and for the associate to put the data into the computer. (You get to pick your own color container for any prescription medications so they don't get mixed up with those of other family members at home -- poka yoke.)

Once that was done, a fellow came around the counter to a little alcove partitioned off and we sat down on the two chairs that were there. He asked what arm I wanted to get the shot in, or if I wanted one in each arm. He talked very approvingly of me for getting the immunizations. It cost about $30 for each shot.

Yes, Target is accepting that they are paying a qualified person (nurse?) to stand around when there are no other customers for the shots. (Excess capacity) But by making them available at any time Target is better matching demand and leveling work than a site that is open once or twice a month. Target is providing a public health service that will keep more poeple well throughout the winter.

Do you think of capacity as something to minimize in every instance? Maybe some excess capacity would be an advantage in ensuring flow in your office or factory. Especially when it comes to people. Wrong-headed layoffs may be hurting companies more than they know.

1 comment:

Mark Graban said...

Emergency Departments face this same dilemma. You can't have 100% efficiency without being able to predict demand 100%. Some slack capacity is a GOOD thing if you need fast response to an urgent need. E.D.'s can't staff for EVERY imaginable catastrophe (like a spill from a poisonous gas train), but they can plan for "expected" variation.

Seems like Target "could" force efficiency by forcing you to schedule (and level load) their flu shot work, but I bet Target considers the nurse waiting time as a loss leader to get you into the store (to buy other things perhaps?) and to keep you coming back (or better yet, to get you talking about their store in a blog post!!)

You have to first start with "purpose" -- not just try to wring 100% efficiency out of everything, that would be my position.

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