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Lean Healthcare: By Brian Lean October 2005

Lean strategies, long considered strictly a manufacturing methodology, are gaining popularity in healthcare. The potential benefits are really astounding. Imagine a healthcare system in which patients receive better care in a more timely fashion. I am very pleased to see increased interest in lean processes for healthcare. The cost of healthcare has consistently grown to a point in which healthcare is out of reach for many. Wellness should never be a luxury. Yet, sadly this is the current state.

The implementation of lean processes in healthcare is an interesting yet highly challenging task. It's difficult for many to transfer the concept of lean to such an environment. After all, the majority of lean publications focus on eliminating waste in the value stream required to produce a "product". When there is no "product" how can we utilize lean concepts? This question is fairly common. The answer is simple. There is, in fact, a product in healthcare. The patient's healthcare experience is the product of all healthcare processes. Providing a quality healthcare experience from the patient's perspective needs to be the aim. Additionally, providing patients exactly what they need, when they need it, at a price they are willing to pay is the focus of lean healthcare. This is a huge bill to fill and driving down healthcare costs will not occur overnight.  Obviously, there is much work to be done. The blame does not fall on those in the healthcare industry. There is no blame. It is quite simply due to a system that is not efficient and unfortunately generates of a great deal of waste as a result of process design.

Having gone through a quite extensive healthcare experience lately, and being a firm believer in lean concepts, I documented the entire process. I documented every process. I also calculated non-value adding tasks such as waiting for MRI results, time spent in waiting rooms, and being asked to fill out forms containing the same information for numerous departments within the same medical clinic. At completion of the 7 month process I found that roughly 3% of the entire process could actually be considered value-added time. 97% of this process was non-value adding waste.

Again, this is not the fault of those who work in healthcare. It is simply the way things have been done. If I had not scrutinized the process I would not have identified waste in the process. Then again, it will be interesting to see the benefits of lean in the healthcare industry.

Implementing lean in healthcare will increase the quality of the healthcare experience, decrease the time needed to complete the healthcare experience, and drive down costs while increasing profitability. We are finally beginning to see growing interest in lean healthcare. There is no better time than now to improve our healthcare system and "lean" is the answer. Identifying and removing waste and non-value adding tasks from the value stream will improve patient care, streamline the process, drive down costs, and provide more rewarding work in this industry.

Our consulting and training firm is experienced in lean healthcare implementation and find the experience exciting and rewarding. For me personally, the most rewarding part of this training is that moment in which the training participants suddenly begin to "see" the value stream from beginning to end. It's much like a veil has been lifted and they are eager to press on. It is a rewarding experience.

If you are interested in taking advantage of lean concepts in your healthcare system please contact us. I also encourage you to read more about Lean Healthcare.

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