There's a lot of excitement today in the health care field about the benefits that Lean practice can bring. This is especially critical in an environment where patient care needs are climbing while the pool of skilled resources and reimbursement for services shrink. Lean Advisors Inc. is working in the healthcare industry to help them implement Lean in order to be able to do more with less while doing it better. The key is to apply Lean methods in an environment driven by the unique values that surround patient care.
As in other industries, the customer should come first. In healthcare that customer is the patient and the patient drives the definition of value. The product (test results in the laboratory) or service (patient care) can make the difference between life and death. That one element takes Lean to another level of importance in this industry.
The needs of the patient are paramount and give new meaning to Lean focus on the customer. The working environment is one driven by shared values and passion in delivering top quality products and services to the patient. Without Lean, healthcare will continue to have difficulty meeting the pressure to serve an increasing number of individuals at less cost.
As the population ages, healthcare must find new ways to meet the demand for their services. Turnaround time becomes a primary measurement that must improve whether it is in the hospital facilities or their testing laboratories. Further, space is at a critical premium in running all the functions within a hospital facility. Only Lean can provide a solution to space issues without either downsizing staff or incurring large scale capital building costs.
Of course, all of these improvements can't compromise the quality - in fact, the quality must improve while working to serve patients faster. This is the real challenge - and, as noted, it can be a matter of life and death.
The Lean principles of customer focus, speed of delivery, increased quality, and flexibility in meeting ever-changing demands fits ‘perfectly’. Hospital and technical laboratory professionals are surprised to see similarities with other industries when they sit down and look at the benefits of applying Lean methods in their environment. Once they have the ‘right’ Lean knowledge, and know how to apply the tools properly, they are able to see that Lean implementation is imperative in order to meet the needs of patients in coming years.
Lean Advisors Inc. has recently begun work with the laboratory service division of a world-renowned Clinic. We have seen the power of adapting Lean to the health care environment and its values driven processes. The results in only a couple of months have been phenomenal. They have been able to reduce lead times so Doctors can receive critical test information even more quickly than the organization's previous world leading delivery pace. These health care professionals accomplished this without adding more staff and without any large capital outlay or increase in space. The impact has been immediate and patients are being serviced faster and better. And there is every indication that the change is sustainable over the long term.
You need passion for improvement to be successful when transforming your organization to a Lean Enterprise. Dedicated healthcare staff has plenty of that passion and this facility was no exception. They are passionate about their work and they, more than anyone, know the importance of speed and quality in meeting patient's needs. The missing ingredient was learning the ‘right’ way that Lean could be applied to make the transformation in a hospital environment. Lean Methods
The healthcare workers in this facility are used to change. Their profession is constantly adapting to new technologies, processes, regulations, and tools - they have learned to expect rapid change. These participants were more than willing to listen and learn about something new that could make patient care even better in a world of shrinking resources.
The passion we saw in how they dealt with patients transferred to the application of Lean in the same way they approached every other aspect of their jobs. They used what they learned as they learned it and quickly became totally committed to Lean. Our challenge was, and is, keeping them on Plan and completing their projects in the correct order so as not to create ‘exciting chaos', all too easy under the pressures of day-to-day emergencies and deadlines. ‘Exciting Chaos’ happens when you apply tools in the wrong sequence and fail to improve the system as a whole. Incremental or ‘point’ improvements are, as we know, a recipe for disaster.
In healthcare, cost containment can be critical, but patient quality, care, and service have to be a priority. The industry faces growing financial constraints. The number of patients is dramatically increasing and the cost of the improved technology is rapidly going up. Administrators of facilities are being asked to accomplish much more with less and less. Lean methods are critical in bringing needed cost savings.
What we often see in health care are the same short-term, knee-jerk responses to reduce costs that we have seen in the traditional industries such as manufacturing. There is an immediate impulse to cut assets and labor resources. While these shortsighted responses may allow them to meet an annual budget, they certainly don't create better service or long-term solutions. Lean Results
Lean doesn't focus on cutting people or assets; it focuses on improving activities and processes in the system as a whole. In order for any business or organization to get better, they must learn how to remove the ‘waste’ in their system and create value without adding staff or resorting to large capital outlays.
When done properly, Lean removes ‘wasteful’ activities and allows the professionals and staff of hospitals, labs, and clinics to focus on more patient value-based activities. The result is doing more with less - more people can be assisted with the same number of people, the same (or less) space, and reduced costs of providing services. Lean methods are indeed the answer to the challenges facing healthcare organizations and their staff.
The Clinic we talked about in this document has proven that it can be done. They are now expanding it to all their labs. They are engaging their physicians, administrators, scientists, lab professionals, and technicians. The people in this Clinic are pioneers and have paved the way for others in healthcare to follow. They have proven that with a passion driven by patient-focused values, the ‘right’ knowledge, and a proper plan, the tremendous challenge facing them can be more than met today and well into the future.
Larry Coté is well known for his penetrating analysis and creative energy. He was with the Lean Enterprise Institute in Boston for almost two years as C. O. O. /E. V. P. He was the Founder and President of the Lean Enterprise Institute Canada.
Over the years, Larry has worked with 100's of companies at various stages of their Lean journey in many different business sectors. Larry has expertise in Toyota Production System concepts, diagnostics and assessment of Lean readiness. He works with the corporate leaders to develop effective plans for transforming organizations using Lean and adapting it to their particular culture.
Lean Advisors Inc .
Lean Advisors Inc. (LEAD) provides Lean Training And Lean Implementation support to organizations of all sizes and sectors including healthcare, office, service, manufacturing, mining, aerospace, food processing, high tech.