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OM in the News: Health Care Kaizens

May 7, 2012

Now, more than ever, hospitals are being expected to do more with less.  That’s where lean methodologies come in, says Healthcare Technologies Online (May 2, 2012).   Lean methodologies, as we discuss in Chapter 16, are geared toward continuous process improvement, and there are two predominant lean schools of thought — Six Sigma and Kaizen.   Each takes a slightly different approach to achieving this outcome. Six Sigma incorporates more statistical analysis than Kaizen, focusing on eliminating defects so that a final product is as close to perfection as possible. Kaizen looks to improve all aspects of a business by standardizing processes and eliminating waste.

The Kaizen philosophy also strives to include every employee into the process improvement initiative.  Kaizen stresses that the real experts in any organization are the people who actually do the work each day, and these employees should be intimately involved in improving their own workflows. In healthcare, this could be a nurse in the emergency department, someone working in finance, a surgeon in the operating room, or an IT executive.

Each person has their own ideas for how their specific workflows could be more efficient. The idea of Kaizen is that a lot of little ideas evaluated and implemented at a local level can have a huge impact on an organization and can generally be implemented much more quickly and easily than a single million-dollar idea handed down from corporate. However, many employees don’t feel empowered to implement changes in their organizations, even if they are common sense solutions. Kaizen puts a structure in place that provides employees with this power.

Kaizen changes are often small, but when instituted in masse they can make a huge difference. For example,  Franciscan St. Francis Health of Indianapolis  estimates that its facility implemented nearly 4,000 Kaizen ideas last year that resulted in a multi-million dollar impact to the hospital’s bottom line.

Discussion questions:

1. Find and describe how another hospital has successfully implemented lean techniques.

2. Why don’t all hospitals embrace kaizen and six sigma tools?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2012 6:07 pm

    Thanks for talking about a subject we at Virginia Mason Medical Center are so passionate about. For more than a decade now, we have been implementing lean principles throughout our organization, adopted from the Toyota Production System, and the results have been tremendous. Engaging employees in the process is critical and beneficial in two ways. First, front-line employees are often experts in the process refinement as you mention. Second, involving employees gets their buy-in and helps improve job satisfaction because they see how their contributions make a difference in our organization. Successfully implementing lean principles is not just doing the activities, but also about organization change; employee buy-in in crucial.

    I would add that while kaizen activities may not incorporate the same level of statistical analysis of Six Sigma, that does not mean metrics are absent. In fact, we use metrics constantly to judge the efficacy of all our kaizen activities through 30-, 60- and 90-day report-outs to the entire organization, which are streamed live to all our clinic locations.

    We have a blog that covers these insights:

    Thank you again!

  2. May 7, 2012 7:32 pm

    Thanks for an excellent note on the real world. We are pleased to hear of your success and your use of metrics.

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