Why Lean Principles Are Ideal for Health Care

Pediatricians and other health care professionals can better serve patients through Lean.Lean management has recently been implemented by numerous hospitals and other health care providers.

It seems every day a new story showcases outstanding results from a Lean transition in a hospital or clinical setting.

For instance, a Canadian hospital cut the time it took for heart attack patients to receive angioplasty from 90 minutes to 37, just by learning from Lean that it was unnecessary to have two separate, similarly qualified doctors make the same diagnosis.

Why does Lean work so well for health care?

Health Care and Manufacturing Commonalities

The automotive manufacturing industry, where Lean originated, is based on a large group of competent professionals, each doing a small and highly specialized task to ultimately produce an incredibly complex final product.

Likewise, health care consists of a diverse array of highly competent specialists, each fully aware of his or her duties and well trained in performing them, but potentially less aware or even mistrustful of others in the process.

Individual Empowerment Works

Lean manufacturing brings manufacturing floor workers together by empowering each individual to find efficiencies and opportunities for continuous improvement in his or her area of responsibility. Workers are called upon to step to the plate and say, “I can do this better and I can tell you how.”

In health care, the same tactic works; every nurse, doctor, phlebotomist, CNA, and physician’s assistant likely feels in some way constrained by managerial policies that prevent him or her from performing at the highest levels.

For instance, in the example linked above, ER physicians felt constrained and demotivated by policies that forced them to wait for a cardiologist to confirm their diagnoses before helping heart attack patients. When the physicians and cardiologists were tasked with creating a methodology permitting a more rapid procession (or, product flow?) from intake to angioplasty, the cardiologists decided they were comfortable with ER physicians diagnosing heart attacks, provided a uniform diagnostic procedure was followed.

As health care leader John Toussaint says: “(Lean) leads to much more staff engagement. When they are put on the pedestal as ‘You are who matters when it comes to delivering better value to the patient’ -that is a refreshing change.”

Focus on Results

In the automotive industry, American manufacturers fell behind Toyota for decades because they remained committed to products and processes that weren’t working. Transitioning to a Lean, results-0riented process that demands results and continuous improvement of key performance indicators resurrected the United States auto industry.

In health care, there is no way to say “We’re making a great product that just hasn’t caught on yet–full speed ahead!” If patient outcomes are poor, the delivery of care is poor. Lean recognizes this and forces results-orientation, focused on patient outcomes. Individual theories about health care delivery can be tested, but if they don’t support continuous improvement, they must go–no matter whose ego is at stake.

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