By November 7, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Lean in Hospitals around Detroit

Hospitals try automakers’ practice of building efficiency in effort to trim costs | The Detroit News | detnews.com

Here’s a good overview article about some Lean activity going on in hospitals around the Detroit area. I can understand the bias from the Detroit News that Lean is an “automotive thing,” given Lean’s roots with Toyota and (earlier) Ford, but given the state of the Detroit Three, don’t you think people in hospitals would be concerned about how you’re going borrow management methods from the automakers??

But, Lean works in hospitals (even if shopfloor Lean isn’t enough to save GM and the rest of the Detroit Three):

The effort has resulted in hospitals identifying areas where they can eliminate wasteful steps that delay patients, cause errors and rack up costs. .”Whether you’re making widgets or providing a service, the principles apply,” said Jean Ann Larson, chief learning officer for Beaumont Hospitals.

There are many good examples in the article, so I won’t try to quote from them all, click on the link and take a look. The article is also (thankfully) free of any really misguided sounding “fake lean” or “L.A.M.E.” practices, so it sounds like there’s a lot of good Lean work going on without too many “office 5S” type debacles.

One comment I will point out — Lean isn’t just tools, it’s about management and culture. I’ve seen Dr. Richard Zarbo (quoted below) speak about Lean and he really understands that Lean is not just tools:

For Dr. Richard Zarbo, head of pathology at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, the switch to lean wasn’t an easy transition. In 2005, Zarbo began reorganizing the hospital’s labs to make them more efficient and defect-proof in processing tissue samples.

Now, the laboratories function like carefully crafted assembly lines churning out microscopic tissue slides. Color-coded bins line counters tops for materials and workplace flow charts show the shortest route to get materials from one station to the next.

The changes helped reduce errors and sped up lab results.

“We’re trying to change the culture of the worker,” Zarbo said. “They don’t just show up to work. They show up to work thinking, ‘How can I improve this.’ That’s what Toyota does and that’s what we have re-created here.”

Good luck to all of the people working on Lean (including my friend, Ken, who was quoted about his hospital system’s work).


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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