A Lean Roadmap for Hospitals

DPA Insights

The Time Has Never Been Better

By Tony Rodriguez, President, Daniel Penn Associates, LLC

Lean manufacturing, aka the Toyota Production System, has enabled U.S. manufacturers to compete in the global marketplace. The Lean approach to improvement and elimination of waste is well-established in manufacturing, and is now spreading to other industries.

So what’s the new opportunity for Lean? Hospitals and health care. And as the leading journal of health policy affirms, we can’t wait any longer.

Lean Hospital Personnel
Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a unique three day Lean Hospital training workshop conducted by my respected colleagues Richard Rahn and Gerard Leone of Leonardo Group Americas and the Lean Hospital Group. Like Daniel Penn Associates, Leonardo Group has spent more than two decades implementing Lean on production floors. Over the past few years, we’ve taken that knowledge into hospitals.

But what does a manufacturing floor have to do with hospitals? Let’s first look at the definition of Lean that Gerard and Richard used to kick off the workshop:

Lean is a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste (non-value-added activities) through continuous improvement by flowing the product at the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection.

For both manufacturers and hospitals, it’s making predictable that what is repeatable by standardizing each organization’s unique value stream and its processes.

While many processes and outcomes of our hospital Lean work are distinct from a manufacturing environment, the philosophy and methods are similar. In a Lean hospital, the patient receives an effective procedure that achieves the desired outcome. Procedures take place in a safe environment in less time at a reduced cost to the hospital and patient. The intensive three-day session helped administrators and clinicians refine (or begin) their hospital’s journey towards the above ideals.

Hospitals know that the operating room (OR) department is where the lions’ share of resources get used. The amount of waste in staff time, supplies management, procedure scheduling, procedure room turnover, and equipment control make the OR an especially ripe area for improvement. The Lean goal is to improve the quality of care, while simultaneously reducing the cost and waste.

For example: How can we move surgical tools through the sterilization and reprocessing cycle to serve patients in the shortest time while ensuring the highest quality? How can we manage the inventory and movement of IV pumps to allow nurses to focus on the patients in their care and not the distraction of scarce equipment? How can we minimize changeover time in OR suites by re-thinking where things are placed and how we stage their use?

The Lean Hospital workshop helped participants understand how to map their facility’s current flow, identify improvements, and engage all levels to move the hospital to a more efficient state in the care delivery process.

What were key takeaways from the intensive three-day training?

  1. Culture always trumps technology. Improving a hospital’s efficiency and quality depends on its ability to change its culture from “that’s how we’ve always done it” and “my opinion doesn’t count” to “Let’s all think differently, work on challenges together and never stop striving for excellence.”
  2. Hospital management must lead the charge towards continuous improvement.
  3. Lean continuous improvement is for everyone in the hospital, not just a selected few. Each process should have an owner and executive sponsor. But everyone must be engaged in suggesting, testing and implementing solutions.
  4. Lean must make people’s jobs easier over time.

Lean Hospital Training Workshop

Now it’s your turn. What Lean continuous improvement initiatives are taking place in your hospital? In what areas? How are they managed? What are the challenges you’re experiencing? What positive results have you documented? Post your comments below – we’d love to hear from you.

Interested in participating in a future Lean Hospital workshop? Email or call (860.232.8577) me to get started!

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