Virginia Mason and Lean Healthcare on the CBS Evening News


A Carmaker As A Model For A Hospital? – CBS News

Virginia Mason Medical Center and their use of Lean and TPS was featured on the CBS Evening News on Saturday. This is huge, I think, for the lean healthcare movement to have positive mention in a major news venue, video below:

The piece seemed to paint Lean in a very positive light, exploring some of the mindset and solutions after succinctly summing up the problem:

“This is one of the reasons health care has become unaffordable in the United States is that we are wasting time and we're wasting valuable medical assets,” said Dr. Robert Mecklenburg.

The debate about fixing healthcare can't only be about who pays for what and how to pay people less. We need to reduce the true waste and cost in providing care, not just play financial games or get to the point where people are denied care that's truly needed (but part of the problem is deciding who decides what's “needed” or not).

The CEO, Gary Kaplan, summed it up:

“Kaplan takes staff to Toyota's factories in Japan every year and practices what the car maker preaches. Just as the automaker's executives spend part of each day on the factory floor, Kaplan tours the hospital daily looking for problems and solutions. Everyone is encouraged to look for changes to make work more efficient. Nurses developed ways to spend most of their time with patients instead of at the nursing station. “

It's an interesting point for debate: do people really need to be dragged to Japan, at this point, to really see and understand lean? That's a big expense.

But look at how Kaplan visits “the gemba” (as we say in the Lean world) to see problems first hand and to get EVERYONE engaged in finding solutions. Freeing up more time for patient care is good for everyone, as well. The video, if you watched, points out that VMMC has saved $11 Million, a point not in the web text, for some reason. Keep in mind, this isn't just cost savings… quality and care has improved, as well, here and at so many other “lean hospitals.”

I'll probably review more of the reader comments on the CBS site, I encourage you to check them out. It's interesting to see the range of reactions ranging from “way to go!” to a somewhat misguided “why would you listen to a company (Toyota) that lost $8 Billion last year?”

Update: Those reader comments are no longer seen on the new CBS News page for this story.

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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.


  1. Mark;

    Wow! So eliminating bureaucracy in a hospital is possible. To me, cost savings and process improvement are just different fingers in the same glove.


  2. After seeing comments and the video on the CBS site:
    I guess this is the first of many to come – where we get to see the results when Lean is mixed with the politics of healthcare reform – and compressed to a 3-minute bite.
    The good news is that Lean holds the promise of being able to radically improve organizational cost structure so as to enable survival from any degree of reimburesement cuts – and there will be deep cuts as Obama's healthcare reform will be paid out of the hides of providers. BOHICA! (Bend Over Here It Comes Again).

  3. Ever since I read a piece on "leaning" health care in Harvard Business Review ("Fixing Health Care from the Inside") a couple of years ago I have believed this HAS to be part of any sort of "reform". Instead of just playing a shell game of shifting ridiculous costs from one payer to another, we can actually make serious progress on improving care while reducing expense, waste, and risk. Great to see it getting some much-needed visibility. Now let's hope the entrenched institutional waste-ers (from Big Pharm to Big Labor) don't try to sabotage it!

  4. This needs to be put in the middle of congress. This is how costs are driven down, leadtimes improved and quality (life and illness in healthcare)is greatly improved while profits are maintained or improved. Steve Spear's new book, Chasing the Rabbit, also illustrates this very point.


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