Benchmarking is the process of improving performance by continuously identifying and adapting outstanding
Successful benchmarking results in improvements to quality and productivity as well as positive financial
outcomes. For example, in a study conducted by the American Productivity and Quality Center in 1995, more
than 30 organizations reported an average $76 million first-year payback from their most successful
In addition, benchmarking promotes a “learning culture,” which is key to continuous long-term quality
improvement and competitiveness. Successful benchmarking organizations are continually looking for new
ideas. They adopt the most useful new ideas and meet and beat the best performance they can find.
Organizations with little experience in benchmarking often discover the best performance benchmark but stop
short of discovering how the best performance was achieved. Additionally, they may start their benchmarking
efforts by looking at external benchmarks while overlooking successful internal benchmarks that already exist.
Further, inexperienced benchmarking organizations often fail to measure the project’s effects in terms of its
costs and benefits.
The prospect of benchmarking can be overwhelming. It is important, therefore, to tackle benchmarking one
step at a time. Benchmarking departments can add millions to a company’s bottom line when each becomes
the best in just one category.
In order to benchmark successfully:
Select a process to benchmark. Know specifically what your department’s problems are and clearly define
what you intend to study and accomplish. Choose relevant measurements.
Study performance-boosting best practices. Talk to colleagues inside your organization. Another department
within your own facility may be using a process that your department can adapt. Next, talk to colleagues
outside your organization. Participate in AHIMA’s Communities of Practice and appropriate listservs. Conduct a
literature search and attend educational programs to learn about best practices. Do not confine your search to
your own industry—there may be comparable processes in an entirely different industry from which you can
learn. Develop a questionnaire to guide telephone interviews and on-site visits.
Judge the appropriateness and adapt best practices. Consider benchmarking with organizations that are
roughly the same size as your own, because their best practices will be more likely to work in your
organization. At times, it makes sense to benchmark with companies that are less than the best but whose
performance is better than your own organization’s. The very best organizations may be overwhelmed by
requests for information or site visits and unable to provide you with the assistance you need.
Plan and implement best practices. Discuss your findings with your staff. Decide which practices can be
adapted to your organization. With staff support, move forward, making the necessary proposals and budget
requests, developing policies and procedures, conducting required training, and implementing new
Measure results and do a payback analysis. Assess the progress your organization has made by comparing
baseline data with current performance. Document the costs incurred and the benefits that have resulted.
Monitor quality to make sure improvements in performance are maintained. Periodically raise the bar or
change the process for continuous improvement.
There are numerous sources of benchmarking information. They include:
AHIMA: The Association periodically publishes surveys and best practices in the Journal. The Communities of
Practice are available for identifying organizations with which to benchmark. Additionally, national conventions
and audio seminars provide access to educational programs and exhibits in which best practices are
Other associations: Associations such as the American Hospital Association (AHA) and Medical Group
Management Association (MGMA) often provide member organizations with staffing and other information
obtained from its membership. Some of this information may be routinely forwarded to your organization’s
administration by these associations and often resides with the chief financial officer. Some associations also
conduct surveys on particular topics on request. These organizations may also publish findings in their
periodicals and on their Web sites.
State, federal government, and accreditation organizations: Depending on the type of benchmark data sought,
one might look to state or federal government or accreditation organizations. These organizations often publish
reports in their publications or on their Web sites.
Trade journals: There are numerous trade journals that publish surveys and showcase best practices.
Corporate information: It is important not to overlook internal benchmark sources. Potential benchmarking
partners can be identified at performance improvement or management meetings, in conversations with other
managers, and by evaluating performance figures from similar departments in affiliated organizations.
Potential benchmarking partners: An extremely valuable tool in benchmarking is the interview or site visit. The
information acquired from best practices can be priceless.
American Productivity and Quality Center: This organization has posted numerous benchmarking white papers
and a benchmarking code of conduct on its Web site (www.apqc.org).
The Benchmarking Exchange: For a fee, this organization provides access to benchmarking surveys and the
ability to request benchmark metrics from other organizations. Visit www.benchnet.com.
Surveys of Average Performance
HIM professional organizations are occasionally asked how their organization’s performance compares with
that of other organizations. This is not benchmarking in the true sense, but rather a comparison between one’s
own performance and the average performance of other organizations.
While there is little scientific data about performance, the following information may be helpful in deciding how
your organization can make such comparisons.
AHA, MGMA, and other associations often provide staffing benchmarks to chief financial officers. Similar
information can also be obtained by calling the libraries of these associations.
Staffing levels are occasionally published in trade journals. Regardless of their source, these statistics are
often problematic. They may not adequately define what was supposed to have been measured, indicate
whether low numbers of employees reflect outsourcing, nor address the variation in the levels of services
Turnaround benchmarks periodically have been published in the Journal of AHIMA as well as other trade
publications. One of the more recent turnaround time surveys was published in the February 2000 issue of the
Journal.1 This particular survey was sent to 1,000 randomly selected AHIMA members identified as HIM
directors in acute care facilities. The data compiled were based on the 200 useable surveys returned. See
“Sample Production Turnaround Times,” below, for a summary of some of the turnaround time statistics.
sample production turnaround times
Turnaround Times (for individual charts)