As you read this, I’ll have just arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, where I have the honor of being the guest of UniLabs, a European medical diagnostics company, for the week. I’m not the most accomplished world traveler, but I’ve had the privilege of seeing hospitals in England and The Netherlands in addition to those in the U.S. and Canada. In Sweden, I’ll get to see some hospitals and speak about lean at a laboratory medicine conference on Thursday.
While the big picture “health systems” (including the payer system) are very different, one thing that always strikes me is that, at the level where patient care is actually provided (the “gemba”), things are very much the same regardless of the country you’re in. Nurses and other staff members struggle with the same types of waste and problems that are seen everywhere: silos, poor communication, lack of employee involvement, and batch thinking. But when I was in The Netherlands, there was one amazing positive difference… and I’m finally getting around to write about it.
Pictured below is Dr. Jacob Caron, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Elisabeth Hospital in Tilburg, The Netherlands. Jacob was giving a talk at a lean healthcare symposium organized by an amazing team at St. Elisabeth, including Marc Rouppe van der Voort author of two lean healthcare blogs, including an English blog (“Lean Thinking in Healthcare”) and one in Dutch. Dr. Caron, Marc, and Peter Kabel, a microbiologist, are three of the leading advocates for lean at St. Elisabeth.
I want you to take in that picture for a good minute. Really, just look at the picture for a while and think, if you will. I was so blown away by the way this wonderful thought was articulated at St. Elisabeth. They said that “loving care” was the best translation from Dutch or their sense of purpose about lean, although it wasn’t a perfect translation.
Here is Dr. Caron, a leading orthopod and the chairman of the medical staff, talking about lean and caring. Your reaction might be, “What? I thought lean was all about cold ruthless efficiency and standardizing work to turn people into robots.”
It’s so critically important to recognize that hospitals and the people there provide more than clinical care. The “value” that a nurse or a tech provides to a patient is more than just administering medications or taking vitals. Value is often taking a moment to talk and make a patient feel comfortable upon admission.
When you step back and look at why a nurse might be short with a patient, it might be that they are stressed out or they’re being run ragged because of bad systems, systemic overburden, and all of the waste in their system. The nurse might not have time to provide what the Dutch described as “loving care.” This is the furthest thing from cold, heartless clinical care.
Far from turning people into unthinking robots, lean should help and support the caregivers so they can truly “give care,” to provide clinical care in a caring way. There’s a similar principle behind programs like the UK’s “Releasing Time to Care” and the U.S. “Transforming Care at the Bedside” programs. With lean, instead of just jamming in new methods without thinking much, we have to start with a sense of purpose. If that sense of purpose says “providing loving care to the patients,” then we need to use lean to reach that purpose.
Anyway, from my time at St. Elisabeth and the couple of times I’ve met Jacob, Marc, and Peter, I’ve been very impressed. We need more people spreading a message like this even if the phrase “loving care” is a bit much for some people. Here’s is Marc’s summary of the Dutch symposium I participated in and he touches on “loving care” a bit there.
To Dr. Caron’s question: “Lean and loving”… is it a “mission impossible”?? What do you think? What are you seeing in practice?
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