Thursday, November 17, 2011

I wondered, is lean manufacturing applicable in most cases? We read about Factory Efficiency Comes to the Hospital from New York Times this week and I was surprised by the fact that lean thinking can be applied to healthcare as a service, at least for the processes that can be standardized.

Here's a short clip about how lean thinking was implemented in the clinical department at Birmingham Heartlands hospital in U.K.

The standardized process in discussion was the flow of a patient checking in, being consulted with a doctor, and leaving the hospital. Cutting processes that do not add value to patients has dramatically decreased the waiting time.

But, both the article and the clip discussed how some of the staff resisted such changes because they thought that lean thinking was another tool just to cut cost. As Ms. Munn in New York Times article pointed out, "the essence of nursing is much more than a sum of the parts you can observe and write down on a wall full of sticky notes."

I think the key, especially in service-oriented businesses, is to separate standardized processes from flexible ones. The processes such as patient checking in to a hospital or being examined with MRI are fairly standardized. Such processes are the ones that should be magnified under the lean thinking microscope. In fact, a standardized timed procedure will insure the quality of such processes. For processes such as patient consulting a doctor, or nurses educating the parents, lean thinking is probably not applicable.

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