Lean Healthcare: Thedacare


According to this article (link has been misplaced), ThedaCare has been modeling the Toyota Production System to implement lean for the last 2 years. There is some explanation of what ThedaCare terms ‘Rapid Improvement Events' where a cross functional team of people collaborate on finding ways to cut out waste (reducing wasted movement was the example given). The same team develops a process, puts it into action and monitors results.

What is most striking to me about this article however, is the extent to which ThedaCare seems to have embraced the higher level elements of a lean mind set. Granted this is only one article, but a couple of important points stand out that indicate they are doing much more than implementing a few basic lean tools:

The customer is clearly the focus – Dr. John Toussaint, ThedaCare's CEO is quoted, “helped us save $12 million, but more importantly it has allowed us the ability to improve what we offer our customers.” There are further comments in the article that refer to helping employees provide higher quality care.

ThedaCare is a learning organization –  the whole point of the article was that ThedaCare invited a group of visitors to see how they have made lean work for them. (The US Army was listed as one of the organizations who sent representatives). They also have a Chief Learning Officer who is quoted in the article.

They have a greater sense of purpose (greater than making money) and a long-term philosophy. The last quote from Toussaint in the article clearly supports this. “We have a huge problem with health costs in this country. We need to do something.”

It's encouraging to see an example that is so much more than a couple key process improvements mixed in with some ‘buzz words' and statements of short term cost savings.

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Luke Van Dongen
Luke, an auto industry engineering veteran, blogged here from 2005 to 2006.


  1. I read the recent article “Thedacare Shares Lean Secrets” from the 12/19/05 Post Cresent. I wanted to make you aware of a useful book in this area. The article is right that Thedacare needs to be commended for their application, but these aren’t “lean secrets.” They are something that many more hospitals and clinics need to pay close attention to before no one is able to afford healthcare anymore.

    The new book described below explains the sources of U.S. healthcare cost problems and methods to control them. I suggest you and/or your colleagues get a copy. This is an important book for you to read as it describes the root causes of spiraling healthcare costs and proposes some solutions. It is about implementing LEAN operations in healthcare. It explains how efficient Toyota operating principles are applied to healthcare. It is shown below. I am the book’s author. I hope this helps your efforts. You may obtain in from the bookstore at http://www.qualitypress.asq.org/perl/catalog.cgi?item=H1255

    which is the American Society for Quality website. It will help you.

    Also, if you click on the small “sample” icon below (near the bottom of the just mentioned ASQ page), you’ll be able to read the table of contents and the text of several chapters of the book for free.

    Best of luck with your efforts.

    Thank You, Bob Chalice, M.S.
    Email: BobChalice@Charter.net

    Book: “Stop Rising Healthcare Costs Using Toyota Lean Production Methods: 38 Steps for Improvement”
    Robert Chalice

    What differentiates this book from other healthcare improvement books is that it is the only one currently available that presents a simple recipe of 38 lean steps for healthcare providers to reduce cost and improve quality. By taking these straightforward steps, healthcare providers can adopt the same lean methods which have enabled companies like Toyota to become so successful.

    The reader will learn to: understand and implement a 38-step recipe to reduce healthcare costs and improve quality at healthcare providers by using Toyota Lean Production methods; understand cost and quality issues facing healthcare in the U.S.; and implement a permanent organizational structure to continuously improve quality and cost within a healthcare organization.


    The book’s appendices contain examples showing Toyota’s lean methods actually being applied to healthcare.



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