We Need "Creativity Before Capital" in Hospitals


RFID tracks hospital's devices Dallas Morning News News for Dallas, Texas Business

This article was in the Dallas paper a week ago. It talks about a local hospital that is implementing fancy cabinets and an RFID tracking system for inventory management.

The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano, which opened earlier this year, is one of about a dozen hospitals around the country and the first in Dallas-Fort Worth that's implemented a radio frequency identification network.

The system essentially automates the tracking and cataloging of almost all of the hospital's most expensive equipment. Experts say the system improves patient care, streamlines inventory, makes it easier to handle recalls and cuts costs.

The system also costs over $4 million dollars to implement (10 cabinets x $400,000 each). I wonder how much process improvement was attempted. I'm noot opposed to technology, but systems like this are often sold as a silver bullet.

The system has flaws, flaws that good processes have to counter:

One concern with RFID is that automated scans aren't 100 percent effective. For example, if an RFID-tagged box is turned the wrong way, the scanner might not detect the signal from the chip, rendering the item essentially invisible and untrackable.

Mr. Christianson said improvements to the design of the antennas on the tags have boosted read rates in the cabinets to close to 100 percent.


So without a 100% effective system, will the hospital STILL have to resort to cycle counting and other manual inventory tracking methods?

Ron Pereira has a post with a graphic showing the results of a recent Bain Consulting study about different improvement methods, their frequency of use and satisfaction. Satisfaction with RFID ranked very low, even lower than satisfaction with Lean (which was pegged at 19%). We can't expect to install an RFID system and expect all of our problems to solved.

I'm reminded of the story from the DVD “Good News… How Hospitals Heal Themselves” about the hospital that had been having trouble with wheelchairs ending up missing. They thought they needed to buy more. What they needed was a better process. They implemented 5S, standard work, and visual management (all Lean tools) and managed to solve the problem. Wheelchairs were available where people expected to find them, when they needed them.

Again, I'm not saying there's ZERO role for technologies, but it sure is less costly to experiment with Lean methods before shelling out $4 million, especially with hospitals being so strapped for cash.

“Creativity before Capital” is a common Lean expression for a good reason.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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