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Implementing Lean in hospitals

Now that we have understood the importance of Lean, we now need to take a look at application of lean in hospitals, the core of healthcare industry. With strategic thinking, continuous research and execution, lean principles can help in significant improvement of processes in hospital management, thereby leading to efficient working of these healthcare organizations.

In hospitals, different processes are carried out on regular basis like operations, surgeries, medical tests, patient admissions, emergency care, routine checkups etc. While carrying out these processes, there are different types of wastes & errors that commonly occur. Inventory, for example is a major contributing factor in hospital costs. Sometimes, more items are procured then required. This is considered as dead inventory. Lean management focuses on procuring lesser inventories but with frequent shipments. This saves money and place for more productive use.

Waste that occurs during transportation is another key factor that lean management can address effectively. For example, if medical facilities are not efficiently designed or do not have some necessary medical equipment, patients, doctors, nurses and other stakeholders waste their time in travelling to another facility. This is not only a considerable waste of time but also there are high chances of medical errors happening while transportation. Lean management focuses on reducing transport related errors by identifying the process that elevates such error and then it either eliminates such processes or suggests an alteration to these processes that would give desired results with utmost accuracy.

Defects in healthcare are intolerable, because they can cause irreversible damage to human health. Major mishaps can occur if operations or surgeries go wrong, improper test reports are generated etc. In lean management, concept of Mistake Proofing is used to avoid such defects. Mistake Proofing is a powerful set of techniques that either avoid errors and defects from occurring or indicate immediately when they occur so that one can take corrective action before a patient is harmed. It relies on creativity and common sense to create low-cost, effective design changes that reduce errors.

When it comes to patients, waiting time waste is main factor in customer dissatisfaction. Customer waiting time can be for operation, emergency treatment, getting test results, routine checkup etc. Lean management offers effective solutions in reducing the waiting time of the patient.

The biggest challenge in adopting lean in healthcare is identifying non-value added processes in which people invest their time and energy. The process can be as simple as providing medical supplies. For example, we often see paramedical staff or nurses in the hospital searching and running for medical supplies while on duty. They may not see this as a waste of time, and may not even think why those supplies are not there where they need them to be. But if the supplies were always readily available, the time nurses spend hunting for them would instead be devoted to something more appropriate to their skills and expertise. Lean principles encourage people in investing time & energy in value-added services.

Reducing overtime is another great opportunity to help make improvements with lean. In any case, people want to get home early to have dinner with their families. If one has a system and organized way of working as well as processes in place, you can implement lean in a way that overtime can be trimmed down, which results in both morale and cost savings.

Reducing length of stay of patients can also be looked upon. This certainly isn’t about pushing patients home before they’re ready, but reducing length of stay is done through preventing errors that would extend a stay or delay it when patients are medically ready to go home. Because of miscommunication, poor planning, or when families or nursing homes aren’t yet ready to take on the person being discharged, a four-day stay can suddenly turn into a five or six-day stay. These things aren’t medical issues, but they often extend length of stay which can cost a huge amount of money.

Numerous other solutions are offered by Lean to the healthcare industry and it requires a thorough commitment by the people of the organization to successfully implement lean in their processes.

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