Monday, September 17, 2012

Healthcare Going Lean

Principles of Lean Management have been applied successfully in manufacturing in the past. However, it is still relatively a new concept in the field of healthcare. As medical organizations are expanding in size, the numbers of internal processes within are increasing both in number and complexity.  The central philosophy of reducing waste maximizes key resources such as time, money, medical supplies etc. Although the field of healthcare and manufacturing are poles apart it has borrowed many of these very principles and applied them to improve patient and customer value.

An excellent example of a forward thinking healthcare provider that has taken to going lean is Virginia Mason Medical Center. A key part of their plan in implementing a lean approach is that early on they understood the importance of interweaving leadership and culture.  Virginia Mason’s main strategy follows a pyramid structure. As can be seen their main focus is on the customer and ensuring that they create value for their patients. This is supported by – people, quality, service and innovation. Virginia Mason has a very customer centric approach and they have designed the core of their strategy based on this. One of the fundamental beliefs of a lean company is usually the emphasis on providing value to the customer that really ties and holds the employees or staff together.

Virginia Mason’s main focuses in adoption of the lean approach
  •  Creation of an open environment that propelled people to give suggestions and feedback. This  was a continuous way to improve the current system without any additional expenditure.
  • Responsibility and Accountability
  • They followed an approach of strategizing around adding value to their customers. This in itself  gave the organization staff and employees better direction.
  •  Eliminating waste within the organization
  •  Embedding quality within the processes itself and hence improving their productivity in achieving effective patient care

Patient care will never be equivalent to manufacturing a car. The question that then comes to mind is: How versatile is the lean approach and are there any particular types of industries that could benefit from using it?

1) Going Lean in Health Care. IHI Innovation Series white paper. Cambridge, MA: Institute for Healthcare Improvement; 2005. (Available

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