The next level of Lean process for healthcare

Most hospitals have begun the Lean process improvement stage to eliminate waste, reduce travel distances, and minimize inventory, with varying levels of success. Here are three keys to creating a prosperous Lean program.

October 14, 2013 |
GS&P Dialogue

As an industry, the American healthcare system falls into three groups: those that embraced Lean principles early and persevered, those that tried and failed and quit, and those that are just waking up (better late than never). 

While the ACA and other reform measures are shifting incentives and establishing penalties in the marketplace, too many major healthcare organizations are taking the easy way out and laying off hundreds if not thousands of associates. While some layoffs may be necessary, there are still opportunities for new business models and deeper internal Lean efforts for providers to thrive once again.

Recognizing this, most hospitals have begun the Lean process improvement stage to eliminate waste, reduce travel distances and minimize inventory, with varying levels of success. A few have begun Lean Six Sigma, fine-tuning standard deviation measurements to the nth decimal point. However, decimal points will only get you so far; process improvement begins and ends with the people. Significant improvement is dependent on successful communication, widespread engagement and serious commitment, on every level, starting with the administrative suite. These are the things that make LEAN not just a buzzword, but an answer to healthcare woes.

Fine-grain process mapping

Lean process mapping begins with a large brush and broad strokes framing the continuum of care. However, the real art of improvement lies in uncovering the detail of each patient interaction and choreographing an optimal customer experience. 

Staying with the artistic analogy, a Lean effort begins with a Contemporary canvas but quickly moves to the Impressionistic period, with a fine-grain focus on each small dot comprising the whole. The current process should be dissected in sequential, layered process meetings beginning with front-line staff and working through clinical staff, nurses, and providers. It is tempting to dive right into optimization, but these meetings should focus on current processes. Only by thoroughly understanding the current system, with all of its barriers, bottlenecks, and missed communications, can you truly begin to optimize it.

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About the author: Marc Sauvé is a Senior Healthcare Strategist at Gresham, Smith and Partners. He specializes in providing growth and development strategies to healthcare providers. An industry authority on future demand, Marc's book, This is Not a Drill, aims to educate all users of the healthcare industry regarding current and future trends.  He has delivered his presentation, "The Future of Healthcare in America," to audiences around the country. More posts bv Sauvé.

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