Lean Healthcare: Increase Value or Reduce Waste?

Today I had the opportunity to address the general session of the 43rd annual conference of the Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management. There were about 1,500 people in the audience, perhaps 1,000 Materials Managers and the balance exhibitors and conference organizers.

 

The content of the talk was an introduction to Lean concepts and how kaizen can apply to healthcare in particular. One of the key points I tried to make was the difference between the traditional approach to improvement (increase value added) and the Lean approach (get rid of waste). With healthcare costs increasing at double digits each year, increasing the value added (buildings, medications, equipment, etc.) improves effectiveness only slowly and at a high cost. The Lean healthcare approach is to get rid of the 7 types of wastes, as in the picture below:

 

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I shook hands with about a dozen people after the talk who said their hospitals were already implementing Lean. Managers from two hospitals from Seattle, Virginia Mason Medical Center and Swedish Hospital, told me about their kaizen activities both in surgery and in administration. This was very encouraging.

 

One woman came up to me and said she was very excited by these ideas and she would tell everyone at her workplace about Lean. One person converted out of 1,000 made it worth the effort, especially if her enthusiasm can turn others onto Lean healthcare.

 

Afterward the talk I took a walk through the exhibitor’s hall. The latest in information systems, management consulting services, surgical supplies, etc. was on display. It felt odd to see so much space and effort being dedicated to increasing the “value added” part of healthcare while so much of the process is still waste.

 

While I’m all in favor of faster and safer medications it would be good to see more space dedicated to prevention and root cause countermeasure of health problems, and more of a focus on methods, processes, and technologies that cut out waste from healthcare. Lean healthcare is just one such approach.

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