LEAN Management in Healthcare

Lean Management process improvement in Healthcare is about creating value and reducing the daily burdens patients and staff face. Lean thinking in healthcare organizations does not focus on cutting costs but on maintaining high quality, safety, and satisfaction standards. This is achieved by aligning all employees around a consistent management structure and using that system to promote, test, and implement process improvement continuously.

While cost savings may not be the primary objective of Lean Management process improvement in healthcare, they are often a result. Redesigning workflows and tasks to improve care often means saving time and other resources. This can also have other benefits, like empowering workers, increasing engagement, and decreasing burnout.

Ultimately, terms such as Six Sigma and Lean are not more important than the strategies and concepts they represent. These strategies and concepts have been proven to work in many industries. They have the potential to make healthcare organizations more successful.

What Lean healthcare isn’t

We are healthcare professionals who help our partners build their self-sufficiency. We often hear: “Isn’t Lean about cutting costs? Will that not harm patient care?

These questions can only be answered if you have the right motivation. But Lean healthcare does not mean cutting costs. Lean management process improvement in healthcare is not about cutting costs. In most cases, however, the improvements you make to your bottom line by following Lean principles can help. However, a patient-centered management system cannot be implemented to reduce costs.

What Lean healthcare is

Lean, as mentioned earlier, is all about putting patients first. Lean management systems encompass a variety of big-picture characteristics as well as day-to-day practices. These take time to implement.

A few core activities and principles can be used to define a Lean organization at a high level.

Lean Tools In Healthcare

What are the Lean thinking in healthcare Tools?
What are the Lean thinking in healthcare Tools?

Implementing processes that are valuable from the patient’s perspective.

The patient experience and outcomes measure success in healthcare. Every employee in a lean healthcare organization is expected to work according to the same standards.

It’s essential to take the patient’s place. A team might look at patients’ steps each time they visit a provider. This allows the team to identify and eliminate roadblocks that patients might face, such as:

  • Waiting for answers, providers, or services
  • To find ancillary services, you will need to travel across the facility
  • It is better to fill out paperwork in person than online.

While reducing wait times doesn’t always mean lower costs, other benefits exist. Patients who do their paperwork at home are more likely to be there on time. This helps ensure that all patients get the care they need. A patient who is more detailed and precise when filling out information about their current medications may be able to make informed decisions and avoid dangerous drug interactions.

Leaders and employees should align around a shared vision

Lean thinking in healthcare management encourages everyone to do the most critical work for the company. Leaders set clear goals while teams and individual team members create goals that align with those goals. If an organization wants to reduce central line infection by 80%, all the central line teams must agree to this goal. They will then iterate on solutions and track progress.

The alignment does more than just drive results for the organization’s priorities. This alignment also increases staff satisfaction and engagement by inviting them into the organization’s mission.

Promotion of a culture that encourages continuous improvement

Safety and quality cannot be achieved. They must be maintained. Lean healthcare organizations provide the structure and culture needed to ensure that employees maintain safety and quality daily.

This is contrary to quality “initiatives,” where quality improvement falls to a designated team or office for a specified time. How can one team impact quality across an entire organization? What happens after the initiative is taken?

These questions are not relevant to lean organizations. Every team works every day to improve quality.

To drive improvements, empower frontline staff

Only when frontline workers have the ability to lead the improvement process can it be possible for it to continue to improve. Respecting the expertise of those who do the work is a central principle of Lean.

Leaders demonstrate respect by taking on the problem-solver role instead. This is healthcare leadership.

  • You can physically go to the location where frontline staff provides daily patient care.
  • Ask questions about the reasoning behind processes and see what your team members are doing.
  • Encourage team members to make improvements.

Leaders play the role of problem breaker and give their frontline colleagues the tools and time to identify inefficiencies and then design and implement better methods. The result is that the whole team feels valued and engaged, leading to improved patient care and satisfaction.

Find the root cause for inefficiencies and pain points

Root cause analysis is a vital part of continuous improvement. This involves looking beyond the superficial to identify the root cause of the problem. Many root causes can be simple, like the location of equipment or the labeling of samples. These seemingly insignificant factors can cause unwanted or even dangerous outcomes and errors. These factors can be adjusted to make work safer and more efficient.

Respect for workers can also be shown by seeking out root causes. Leaders should not blame the person who made a mistake. Instead, they should partner with the person to discover why the error was made. What were the conditions that allowed this mistake to happen? How can we avoid future errors and promote safe, high-quality actions? Leaders can create an environment that encourages frontline staff to be more open and willing to share their ideas and focus on the process rather than the individual.

lean management in healthcare
What is lean process improvement in healthcare?

Flexibility and willingness for change

The nature of patient care is dynamic. Like any other organization, lean ones often attempt solutions that don’t work out as planned. This shows that being open to new solutions is more important than the initial desire to improve.

Lean thinking in healthcare organizations are equipped with the mindset and tools to adapt, evolve, innovate and iterate by incorporating quality improvement, strategic alignment, and staff empowerment.

Lean in action: Real results

Lean thinking in Healthcare organizations can benefit from a patient-centered approach to management. It promotes better resource stewardship and can improve patient care quicker and more affordable.

Many organizations have realized the benefits of Lean management.

  • Continued improvements in patient safety The University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center (UM SJMC) partnered with Virginia Madison Institute to create and mobilize a single management platform accessible to all employees. UM SJMC saw its annual harm incidents drop by half three years after its launch. It also exceeded its goals for improving patient experience ratings and reducing employee injuries. These improvements helped St. Joseph to earn many accolades. They received a five-star rating by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a Leapfrog A grade for safety, and U.S. News and World Report recognition as the top Maryland community hospital.
  • Optimized patient flows in primary care The Virginia Mason Institute assisted WakeMed Health and Hospitals in improving ambulatory flow within its primary care clinics. To improve safety and organization, teams used Lean methods such as aligning around a shared vision and creating 5S agreements. They made improvements that allowed patients to be seen on time and could accommodate walk-ins. Staff could also take their lunch break and return home on time after completing all work.
  • Improved patient outcomes A Virginia Mason team was responsible for surgical instrument setup. They used root cause analysis and reduced errors to reduce prep time and minimize storage dramatically. The changes resulted in surgeons being able to perform more procedures and better meet patients’ needs.

How else can you apply Lean Management in Healthcare?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.