While lean is better known for being applied to manufacturing environments – since its introduction in the automotive world lean has evolved and is utilized in a significant variety of businesses – from the office through to the service industry.

Applying lean to healthcare is not as odd as it first sounds – typically lean is very focused on the customer and removing wasteful activities that do not contribute to the end product – given this its unsurprising to find many tools associated with lean are equally at home in healthcare.

The healthcare industry has many similar problems to manufacturing – leadtimes, inventory, inefficient processes – lean can be applied to drive similar improvements. For dissenting voices there are some common arguments against lean (actually these arguments are common whichever industry your in).

1/ There are no standard patients
2/ Demand is unpredictable
3/ Every patient is different

However when placed under the microscope do these arguments stand up? The lean Enterprise would argue that there are a few standard patient “flows” through the hospital. While demand does vary – historical analysis can go some way into predictability and a pareto analysis of procedures shows some common groupings of care against patient volume.

So which lean tools can be applied to healthcare? Surprisingly many of the traditional lean tools can be easily applied to this environment such as:

• Value Stream Mapping
• Flow
• Pull
• 5s

Getting started with Lean in Healthcare follows the same route as in other industries – typically this will follow

• Groundwork activities such as initial communications 5s
• Producing a current state value stream map
• Critiquing the current state – removing waste an prioritizing improvements
• Design future state value stream map
• Implementing future state.

The benefits of lean are many – correctly implemented – it can improve safety and quality and drastically reduce leadtimes. Common lean tools and techniques can be applied here as much as they can in manufacturing scenarios. The world of lean has changed significantly in the last 20 years – it is no longer just for certain industries – lean has evolved and can be applied to healthcare to deliver tangible benefits.

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