Lean Operations & The Healthcare Industry

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The Lean Production System is a well-known system that was pioneered by Toyota to better optimize their manufacturing cycle. This produced definitive results within the company and garnered a lot of attention from others. This led to a mass adoption of their practice across the manufacturing sector and spawned a whole curriculum in which executives could learn the principles of Lean. In fact, our General Manager, Chris Drungell, is a Black Belt of the Six Sigma program and is proof that the system really works. Soon, these principles began to be applied to industries that had very little relation to the manufacturing of goods, yet still had just as impressive results. One of these industries is healthcare, and we personally have found the healthcare industry to respond well to this kind of process improvement. That's why we thought we would share an article by Lindsey Dunn of Becker's Hospital Review discussing the five main principles of the Lean model as applied to hospitals.

Many times we can lose sight of the needs of our own people in an effort to serve others.

As described by Dunn, the Lean model has three main ideologies when improving any system: to eliminate waste, value employees, and to continually improve. Notice, that not all of these principles are directly related to products manufactured or the services rendered. These points serve as the primary pillars of the Lean model. Any future implementations must serve one of the three pillars or the implementation may not be effective. These principles are indeed philosophical yet crucial to the culture of any organization during process improvement. After all, hospitals are all about serving people; yet many times we can lose sight of the needs of our own people in an effort to serve others, sometimes doing more hard than good. That's why the "valuing employees" pillar is so important, particularly for the healthcare industry. 

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The article goes further in-depth on how to apply these principles in a more concrete way. Strategies such as keeping inventory low and embracing technology are excellent ways to better any clinical settings, but our favorite implementation mentioned by Dunn was eliminating waste in Emergency Rooms. 

Emergency Rooms are notorious being one of the most difficult parts of the hospitals to optimize. Given the variable nature of the demand for emergency services, it's nearly impossible to accurately forecast the needs of the department. Resources have to be efficiently used to ensure the survival of the hospitals while operations need to be tailored to best serve the incoming patients. As explained by Dunn, the biggest problem that the ER has is wait times. "About 80-90 percent of a patient's time is waiting," and that is definitely waste ready to be trimmed. This would be similar to a raw material sitting in a manufacturing plant, waiting for a machine to open up. Longer wait-times for patients means longer turnover rates, leading to patients in need of treatment ultimately walking out the door. 

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The Lean model sees this wait time as non-value-added activity and minimizes it. In a case-study, Dunn explains that after educating the staff on the Lean principles and analyzing ER process, wasteful action items were eliminated and better processes were implemented. What resulted was a 108 minute decrease in the average patient wait time after two years of implementation. Many more hospitals and clinics alike have experienced the same benefits of the Lean model and have begun to apply it to every aspect of their operations.

Our General Manager, Chris Drungell, also weighed in on the matter of Lean production in healthcare. His perspective on the Lean model encourages executives to not be concerned with just trimming the fat but rather re-structuring to better fit people's work styles and goals. 

Six Sigma has been misclassified as cutting resources and doing more with less. But in reality, it is about removing obstacles and allowing people to focus on what they do best. Our unique model of pairing Technical Assistants with the Sonographers is a great example of six sigma process improvement in action.
— Chris Drungell

Like all process improvements, the Lean model is a process, taking day-to-day effort to push your organization to a better future. This is in no-way an easy 12-step fix, but Lean does give you the tools necessary to better serve your patients and employees given the dedication. Even if your particular clinic or hospital isn't ready for a full-fledged Lean overhaul, you can use the three principles discussed above as a compass for your organization. By identifying the different moving parts and evaluating their effect on operations, you can begin to improve the overall health of your clinic or hospital.

We encourage you to read the full article on the "5 Key Principles for Hospitals From Toyota's Lean Production System" and if you'd like to learn more about us and the Lean model, visit the Our Services page.