Interesting Visual Controls Example from a Hospital


Thanks to Luke for this story, which he allowed me to share:

I was touring a new client hospital with the Director of Inpatient Services today. She was explaining the renovations they’d done in the birthing suites. We were about to enter a room when my guide stopped so suddenly I thought she’d hit a pole.

On the door to the birthing suite was a postcard, a photograph of a lily rendered in deep blues and purples. The Director stood there for a moment, said “that can’t be right” and opened the door. Inside the suite were some packing cases for birthing class dummies, the stuff she wanted to show me. There was no patient in the room.
Later, remembering the postcard, I asked the Director what it meant. “Oh, that’s our signal for Fetal Demise. If a nurse sees that she knows not to ask about the baby.”

And these folks were concerned about ‘not getting’ Visual Management?

I asked why the signal was still there, even though the room is now used for storage. She didn’t know.

If there’s a lesson here, I haven’t figured it out yet. But it’s interesting how we communicate, the big things and the little things.

A client of mine, on their own, implemented something similar, to put a visual sign (just a picture) outside a room where somebody had passed away, to alert housekeeping and others to be sensitive about the needs of the family and loved ones who might be there.

Just another example of how “Lean thinking” can support the caring side of a hospital, not just efficiency. Signs like this prevent awful misunderstandings or awkward moments that might ruin an otherwise decent hospital experience.


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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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