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OM in the News: Hospitals Turn to Lean

March 30, 2012

 Hospitals, under increased pressure to cut costs and become more efficient as Medicare reduces reimbursement rates, are turning increasingly to lean healthcare, writes MedCity News (March 23, 2012). Quoting Mark Graban, author of Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety and Employee Engagement, “the lean model is about empowering people to improve and making lots of little savings.”

One of the biggest expenses for hospitals that can be controlled are complications resulting from hospital acquired infections. Graban referenced one hospital that saved $8 million by reducing hospital acquired pressure ulcers. “The goal is to have every employee be a problem solver every day.” Graban added that it’s critical for upper management to create an atmosphere where staff at all levels feel that they can contribute and that their contribution is valued.

Small changes can make a significant difference. Just because something needs to be changed doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a major undertaking. In many cases improvements that can make a difference are subtle differences. Graban recounts one instance in which a hospital had installed an electronic paper towel dispenser right down the hall from a neonatal intensive care unit and its noise caused some disruption. Some staff spoke with the maintenance team and explained why it was a problem and replaced it with a manual dispenser. “That becomes empowering where a hospital allows changes to be made without treating it as a bureaucratic process,” Graban said.

Ask patients. By taking the time to involve patients in the lean process, hospital staff could get insights that may not have occurred to them or get a better sense of their priorities.

Discussion questions:

1. Suggest some areas in which lean can be applied in a hospital setting?

2. What is the origin of lean production?

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