Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Healthcare goes Lean

            With healthcare costs on the rise and currently accounting for 18% of our GDP, any processes that increase efficiency, improve processes and effectively reduce costs should be explored.  Processes in the healthcare sector should thus be geared towards becoming more lean and increase value by decreasing waste.  This concept became very apparent when I completed a project in my Health Care Quality and Process Improvement course.  My group members and I shadowed patients upon their entry to three different clinical sites.  Among our deliverables was a time study, which assessed the value added and non-value added time.  From this analysis we were able to see that there was almost an equal amount of value added and non-value added time.  This demonstrated that there was waste within these three clinical sites and improvements could be made to make the processes more efficient and more lean. 
            Lean processes also focus on continuous improvement, which enables focus to be continually on patient safety and quality medical treatment.  These processes also improve efficiency, which will ultimately reduce costs.  For example, initiatives such as creating effective material restocking processes, increasing capacity by using current equipment and available space and focusing on preventing errors that would increase a patient’s length of stay would directly decrease costs for an organization[1]
An example of a medical center that has worked hard to implement lean processes includes Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle who implemented their own version of the Toyota Production System, or the Virginia Mason Production System (VMPS).  This system has focused on areas including, but not limited to a no layoff policy and a defect alert system.  The no layoff policy enables lean management to take place as workers were more willing to engage in improvements once they did not felt as if their job was threatened.  The defect alert system is similar to Toyota’s assembly line where anyone is able to “stop the line” when they see a mistake.  Virginia Mason has implemented a similar concept where they can stop care if someone sees a mistake and will call the patient safety department and someone will come to assess the situation and conduct a root cause analysis.  These processes, and the others implemented created efficiency and financial gains as well as helped to advance clinical improvements at Virginia Mason[2].
            What are other ways in which healthcare organizations have already implemented lean processes to reduce their costs and decrease waste?  What are new ways in which this can be achieved in healthcare?

[1] http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/7-ways-lean-healthcare-management-reduces-cost
[2] http://www.entnet.org/Practice/upload/GoingLeaninHealthCareWhitePaper.pdf

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