The Need for Lean Laboratories
Here is a free version of a WSJ article from last week. I know I've been posting about “lean healthcare” a lot this week, I hope that is of interest to the manufacturing folks who are reading. Lean is lean, to some extent, so I hope you'll keep reading.
After transitioning into healthcare, I've seen many hospital labs. The opportunities for errors are all over the place, pre-lean, mainly due to bad processes and batch thinking. Because of batching, it is far too easy to mis-label slides or to put the wrong label on a test tube, which is going to lead to false positives or false negatives.
I don't think I've seen error rates this high:
“…studies show that 3 percent to 5 percent of the billions of specimens taken each year are defective, be it a biopsy that doesn't extract the tumor cells, blood that isn't drawn correctly or a mix-up with another patient's sample.”
The results can be disasterous, as this article highlights.
“Tests fail because things can go wrong at every step of the process, and there are no checks and balances in place in pathology to catch these errors,” says Stephen Raab, director of the center for pathology quality and health-care research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who is leading the lab-safety collaborative.
While only about 1 percent of errors lead to serious harm or delays in treatment, he says, “You wouldn't want to have 1 percent of all airlines crashing.”
From a lean perspective, I don't think the solution is more “checks and balances” — you can't inspect your way to quality results. We need lean methods and single-piece flow — methods that work in labs and pathology areas, methods that help PREVENT errors or mix-ups from occurring.
Lean really works in laboratory settings. Lean reduces errors and improves cycle time for getting test results back (known as “turnaround time” in the lab world). Lean works, we just need more of it.
If you have questions about lean in laboratories, email me. I have done a lot of work in hospital and reference laboratories over the past year, it is the focus of my employer. I would love to help you out if you have interest in lean.