I probably get asked some version of the following question, in person or via email, once a week or more:
“How many American hospitals are implementing Lean?”
Sometimes it’s asked, as it was today, in terms of “How many… are involved with Lean?”
It’s really hard to answer that question… and, if I could, does it even matter?
I always answer the question with by saying either:
- What’s your definition of “doing” (or “implementing” or “involved in”)?
- I don’t know how many hospitals are…
What’s the definition of “doing Lean” (as much as I dislike that phrase)? If it’s a simple binary yes/no answer, does the hospital that experiments with 5S in one department get counted equally as an organization that’s really embracing Lean as a culture and a management system? All of the “yes” answers wouldn’t be as meaningful. So that’s one reason why I don’t even care to try to count. I know interest and participation with Lean is increasing over time, but I can’t put a number to it, either.
Secondly, not every hospital out there reports what they are doing. Some organizations share freely and write books about what they’re doing and hope to do… some keep their improvement work close to the vest. Could we could how many hospitals have an open job posting that mentions Lean? Maybe… that wouldn’t be a perfect measure either.
I criticized ASQ a few years back for publishing a very unscientific survey… of just 77 hospitals (there are more than 5,000 in the U.S.). They said about 50% were implementing Lean… but without a consistent definition of what that meant.
According to the ASQ study, 53 percent of hospitals report some level (“minor,” “moderate” or “full”) of lean deployment…
Even if we DID have a good estimate of how many hospitals are “doing Lean,” what does that matter? It’s been pretty well proven that Lean can work in healthcare. Do we want more hospitals embracing Lean because it’s popular or trendy? Are those organizations likely to be truly committed or successful?
How do you answer that question?
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