Lean Materials Management Improves Hospital Service, Bottom Line


Lean… and saving green – Materials Management in Healthcare Mag

Here's an article in a healthcare trade publication that features the Lean improvements from two hospitals: LeBonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis (featured in my book, Lean Hospitals, and Kingston General Hospital in Ontario (previously highlighted in an SME piece I co-authored with my former colleague, Lewis Lefteroff, quoted in the article).

Some of the Lean benefits cited in the article:


  • Central processing reduced instrument tray turnaround time by over 50 percent
  • Department's planned expansion was cut by about 2,500 feet over time


  • Central processing saved $450,000 in excess on-hand inventory, including more than $100,000 on expired items
  • Staff reduced its walking patterns by 50 percent, leading to a 54 percent reduction in case-picking time
  • Laboratory turnaround was cut in half in just 12 weeks

One of the very familiar aspects of the story was the Kingston central processing leader, Derek Wallis, going from skeptic to convert in a very short period of time.

And Wallis' department wasn't “broke.” Wallis is the supervisor for central processing at Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ontario. His team had always exceeded benchmarks for area hospitals. They operated on budget, their turnaround times were good and a planned expansion would add over half a million square feet to the department.

“We didn't have a problem,” Wallis recalls. “I wanted more people and more space to squeeze in every OR plate and screw. But overall, we were running as well as anyone.”

That's part of the problem with benchmarking… when there is waste in everybody's process, you might look pretty good compared to benchmarks. That's why it's better to benchmark yourself against a perfect process.

Wanting more people and more space (requiring more money, of course) is a pretty common mindset in healthcare. Toyota's teachings lead us to focus on “creativity before capital,” not just throwing money at a problem or perceived need.

But once they had success:

“I am the textbook lean convert,” Wallis says today. “I'm the first to admit: I didn't know how much I didn't know.”

Lots to dig through in the article, take a look, and feel free to comment here.

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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. I agree. This is a very good article. A comment regarding benchmarking: Mark, you recommend that folks compare themselves against a perfect process instead of against a benchmark organization. Outside of health care, benchmarking (with high performing organizations) is fairly common and, in my experience, beneficial. Within the health care sector, there seem to be more challenges with using benchmarking. Now, I am always skeptical when people compare their performance just to themselves. The risk, of course, is closed-minded introspection. I would be interested in other reader's experience with benchmarking in health care–perhaps from members of the Healthcare Value Leaders Network.


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