Lean Healthcare?

by MK Strupe on Thu, Aug 20, 2009 @ 12:44 PM

When people talk about "lean" they commonly think about Lean Six Sigma used in the manufacturing industry, a methodology that has been used for decades to reduce costs, increase effectiveness, and improve production and operational efficiencies; however, the success of "lean" principles has caused nearly every vertical and role to take a look at "being lean".  The big buzz with lean methodology today is in the realm of healthcare. While healthcare and manufacturing are two very different industries, the basic ideas are quite similar. Whether producing and assembling machinery or treating patients, employees participate in and depend on many multifaceted processes to complete their tasks.

Lean thinking and operations focus on eliminating waste out of daily processes to increase the value of completed work.  Waste, in this case can be defined as anything that decreases value, whether it's time, money,  or resources. Lean thinking is also customer centric in that it serves to maximize value to customers on all levels.

In achieving lean operations, an organization must first determine the value-adding and non-value adding steps in the process - a task that can easily be done with a simple business process modeling tool. Lean methodology ultimately is designed to improve the quality of process outputs by finding and removing the causes of errors and inconsistency within your business processes. This allows businesses and organizations to:

  • Ensure efficiency in their procedures
  • Decrease cycle times
  • Improve customer service
  • Reduce costs
As it relates to healthcare, this means automating internal processes and forms to improve the quality of care provided to patients. Implementing a business process management solution allows providers to define, automate, and manage a process to ensure consistency and visibility. It also allows process champions to continuously optimize the workflow to ensure that the organization is operating at optimum levels of performance. Having electronic health records and other patient information updated and ready prior to treatment allows healthcare providers to deliver a higher quality of care to patients while also treating them in a timelier manner.  This could be a cost savings or value in that:
  • Patients spend less time in the waiting room
  • Electronic Health Records (EHRs) allow employees to quickly find and update information
  • Required forms are already pulled and/or filled out
  • Scheduling of patients is more efficient
  • Patient overall satisfaction is increased
With all of the reform in the healthcare industry, there is no time or money for inefficiency or waste. Is your company currently practicing lean principles? What challenges do you see in implementing a lean solution?

To learn more about Lean thinking and Six Sigma, click here to download a whitepaper.


Mary Katherine Strupe
Marketing Coordinator

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This post was written by MK Strupe