Is Lean a Prescription for Healthcare’s “Do More with Less” Challenges?

Posted by David MacGregor

Oct 8, 2013 2:30:00 PM

Lean, Healthcare, Branding

It’'s no secret. With the move towards accountable care, evolving payment models, and diminished reimbursements, hospitals and physician practices large and small are looking for ways to streamline operations and reduce costs. Of course, this forced mandate to “do more with less” must be accomplished while maintaining and improving patient care quality—- no easy chore. 

Many providers are looking seriously at Lean, a quality improvement methodology originated decades ago by the Toyota Car Company (built on the back of revolutionary processes created by Henry Ford) and used with great success in a host of manufacturing verticals. For those not familiar, here’'s a terrific, concise explanation of Lean, taken from the book Doing More with Less: Lean Thinking and Patient Safety in Health Care:  

At its core, lean thinking outlines a way to do more with less while coming closer to giving customers what they really want when they really want and need it and in the amount they need...…To meet customers’ specified value, a practitioner of lean thinking identifies the value stream, a set of processes that produces the services determined by the customers. 

Any individual step within the value stream that contributes directly to the end value is considered a “value-added” step. Any step that does not lead directly to the end goal is considered a “non-value-added” step. …Non-value-added steps are considered waste, and a key concept underlying the lean thinking system is the elimination of waste.

Could something that has worked so well for manufacturing giants such as Toyota, Dell, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and others also work in healthcare? Could healthcare organizations implement this methodology and realize reduced costs, increased productivity, organizational alignment and, ultimately, patient benefits? 

The Mayo Clinic thinks “yes.” In fact, in its recent article, The Promise of Lean in Health Care, John S. Toussain, MD, and Leonard L. Berry, PhD shared survey results from eight providers that have implemented Lean with impressive results: 

  • Percentage of on-time starts increased from a baseline of 50% to a mean of 70%
  • Operating room turnaround time decreased from a mean of 60 minutes to less than 40 minutes
  • Percentage of cases rescheduled due to late starts decreased from a mean of 21% to a mean of 4.4% of total cases
  • Same-day surgery cancellations decreased from 7% to less than 3% of total cases

The lean process is not a quick fix, but rather a way for organizations to constantly monitor their procedures and continually improve their methods. In theory, this creates a constantly improving organization, and a way to do more with less without negatively impacting quality. The examples cited above show that Lean has worked for healthcare providers in practice as well as in theory.

Dr. Toussaint and Dr. Berry conclude their article this way:

Lean is an innovative management approach that has proven successful in healthcare organizations. It offers promise for improving quality and efficiency while controlling costs in the provision of optimum patient care…Innovation through Lean’s proven methods provides hope for better health care at less cost rather than worse healthcare at less cost. 

For anyone interested in learning more about Lean manufacturing, we recommend what most believe to be the definitive work on the subject: The Machine that Changed the World by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos.

To find out about more opportunites we have identified in the healthcare market, we invite you to download our free healthcare report Five Key Considerations for Brand Success in Healthcare.

Free Healthcare Report: Five Key Considerations For Brand Success In Healthcare

Topics: Healthcare, B2B