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May 1, 2010

Lean Thinking In Healthcare

Definition Of Lean

Lean originated in manufacturing plants in Japan, but has soon spread around the globe and is relevant not just to private healthcare organisations, but increasingly to healthcare as well.

There are many differing definitions as to what lean actually is, but in essence, lean is about completely eliminating waste within an organisation or business and using less resources to actually do more.

Lean works by analysing any process and then determining its value by breaking the process up into ‘value added steps’ and ‘non-value added steps’. This is then further analysed, with each step that is a non-value added step being completely eradicated from the process. This leaves a process that is made up purely from value added steps, so the process itself is completely efficient.

In terms of lean this brings about a value stream, where everything is simply about value, but not necessarily value in monetary values, it can be about value to the end user.

Why Is Lean Relevant To Healthcare?

Although lean started off being used in the Japanese car industry, the principles of lean are actually very relevant to the healthcare sector. As patients of any healthcare system we all want a service that meets or exceeds our needs and for those that control it, runs at an appropriate cost, but there is often a good deal of waste within large organisations, whether private healthcare providers or in the public sector.

Saving money is very important to both private providers and the government run healthcare organizations. In the private sector, reduced costs means less costly procedures for patients and increased financial security, whereas within the government funded organizations such as the UK’s NHS resources have been subjected to being frozen or only raised by a small amount for year upon year, so saving money is seen as not just desirable, but essential.

A Wholesale Strategy

One of the very interesting aspects of lean thinking is that it has to be something that is applied throughout the whole of an organisation, or to use management ‘speak’ it has to be a roots and branch review.

Everyone who works for that organisation has to be committed to the process and they have to have an input to make it effective. This means that from senior management to cleaning staff, everyone, but everyone has to start thinking along ‘lean lines’. Within any healthcare organisation this is a challenge and can take time, but the strategy has to be wholly embraced for it to be effective.

Lean In Action

There are various ways that lean can actually transform a healthcare organisation. It can ensure that patient waiting times are reduced, through eliminating the reasons why patients have to wait, making sure that all necessary equipment is in place, ensuring that nursing staff have instant access to dressings and supplies that they need, through reducing the time that they have to spend looking for supplies etc. It is also very effective in ensuring that resources are spent appropriately through its integral emphasis on eliminating waste.

Due to the fact that it does need to be comprehensive throughout an organisation, it is not a quick fix solution and it can even take time to make the culture of a healthcare organisation receptive to the concept of lean.

But where lean has been used within a healthcare organisation the results have been quite dramatic and there is no reason why, with time, lean cannot radically transform patients’ experiences of using the healthcare services that are offered by both the private and government funded healthcare providers.