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The Lean Philosophy In Healthcare

written by Guest Blogger April 8, 2014

Where are you in the world? What is your healthcare system like? Does it need some improvement? Today guest blogger, James, shares some information on a lean healthcare system.

The American healthcare is facing a crisis. The industry has many issues that it is struggling with. There are skyrocketing costs as well as issues with the quality of health care. Nurses are in short supply and employees are dissatisfied. These are symptoms that indicate a deeper problem in the system. Healthcare providers are realizing the imperative need for improving quality and safety and cut costs at the same time. That points a finger towards waste management. That is why many healthcare organizations are looking at the lean philosophy to find a way out for such problems.


Applying Lean Principles In Healthcare

In many production or manufacturing setups, lean philosophy has been implemented by way of Kaizen and six sigma principles. The same is now being applied for the healthcare industry. It is not being seen as simply another project or a way to judge the performance of the people. It is a way to transform or bring about changes in the entire organization and the way of working.

The healthcare delivery system need to be of high quality and high on performance, and maintain profitability as well. There are many obstacles that lie in the healthcare systems, which stop them from achieving excellence in their work. Indeed, manufacturing of products can be streamlined efficiently, but service organizations like healthcare provide other challenges that need to be overcome.

Challenges Seen

There are many challenges that lie in the way of implementing the lean philosophy or six sigma principles in this industry. There are glitches in the functioning of the information technology systems in many of the healthcare organizations across the US. Coupled with that is the frustration that the employees face in getting work done or getting over conflicting processes. There are errors that are caused and oversights, which even increase the safety risks for the patients. The improvements that are suggested are costly for the systems to implement as well as high tech, which is a skill that is limited to certain personnel in this industry.

There are certain well-designed interactions that the lean philosophy has proposed, which will bring about improvements fast and in an inexpensive manner. The experiments that are proposed are continuous in nature. If implemented well, they will bring on rapid improvements. There are six sigma professionals working on customizing the principles and applying the same to the healthcare industry.

Goal Of Lean Healthcare

The goal of lean healthcare is to identify and build the core competencies of every healthcare organization. This pertains to the front line workers, the middle managers and top management as well. The disciplines of Kaizen or six sigma need to be incorporated into the operating philosophy of the healthcare system. The system changes will be brought about in such a way that they are self-sustaining. Training is a key part of such changes. The key staff needs to be taught how to sustain their gains and to identify the renewable sources of success within the organization.

The principles in lean healthcare management look into the operating processes, which lie in every healthcare organization:

  • Admission and discharge
  • Patient flow within or across different departments
  • Operation room turnover
  • Scheduling the different processes and systems
  • Medical records
  • Inventory control
  • Billing processes
  • Equipment supply
  • Shift change processes
  • Pharmacy and laboratory work
  • Emergency room work
  • Clinical processes
  • HR processes
  • Improvement processes

Reduction Of Chaos

The chaos that reigns in healthcare systems in the US had led to investigations in the working of such systems. That has led to the uncovering of the organizational and clinical quality problems. There are incidents of patients not getting the care and attention they deserve and the time when they deserve it. These situations are leading to the policy makers asking for the care systems to be redesigned.

Resistance Anticipated

Even though lean thinking is an approach that will generate positive results, there is a lot of resistance that is faced or anticipated in many healthcare systems. The argument that goes against lean thinking principles is that it is a business approach, which neglects the socio-technical aspects of this industry. There are other problems as well, such as non-comparable measures in this industry’s working. However, many experts are confident that lean thinking will contribute to health care improvement.

Original Application Of The Lean Principles

Originally, lean theory developed for production and quality systems. Here, the craft and mass production systems were considered to find room for improvement in such processes. There was emphasis on standardization. That helped to eliminate the cost of inventory and improve the processes and their profitability. The lean production techniques were first incorporated in the automotive and manufacturing industry. It then came to be associated with many service industries such as healthcare.


Main Principals

The main principles that were highlighted in lean thinking were customer value and asset reduction. Process improvement however, often came at the expense of degrading the working conditions of the employees. Today, it includes many human behavioral aspects as well. There is a merge of the quality system and a quality culture ethos for the service industry to implement lean thinking philosophy. 

Stress On Value Creation

The key concept that needs to be incorporated in lean healthcare is the value creation. Value is the capability to deliver the product or service as required by the customer within a minimal time period from the demand place to the delivery. Process steps in defining the need of the customer include value adding and non-value adding steps. The value adding activities are those that contribute directly to the delivering the service for the end customer. The non-value adding activities are considered waste, which needs to be avoided or removed.

How Healthcare Will Benefit

Hospitals will benefit from lean healthcare management by reducing waste in inventory, reduction in waiting time of the patients and improvements in productivity. Process improvements will lead to better quality of care such as less complications and infections noted in wards. It would also lead to increased profitability for the organizations and smooth processes for the employees to follow.

Sources: Image 1 – www.joanwellmanassociates.com;
Image 2 – www.healthcaresynergetics.com.

About the Author

James continues to progress his passion for writing and his enthusiasm for getting a job well done. For more details on the implications of lean philosophy in health care, check out this video.

What do you think about the lean healthcare philosophy? Do you have any questions for James?

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