Lean practices stem back to the 1930s when Toyota officially rolled out its Toyota Production System.  This system was a significant change in thinking around productivity and profitability, as it shifted focus from the machines that made the product to the flow of the product at every step in the process. Since then, Lean has exploded in the manufacturing world and become one of the most popular ways to manage production and cost.

Because Lean got its start in manufacturing, many assume that’s the only place it’s relevant, but that’s far from the truth. And healthcare is an excellent example of Lean’s successful application in other industries. It’s important to note that the goal of Lean in healthcare is not to cut costs, though it’s often a positive outcome. Instead, Lean healthcare focuses on balancing added value and reduced stressors for patients and healthcare providers.

The five key hallmarks of Lean in healthcare include:

Developing Shared Vision

As mentioned in our Lean Healthcare Integration blog, healthcare leaders must have clear goals and a streamlined implementation strategy before rolling out Lean practices. The key here is to rally the entire organization around the goals of the new or updated practices. This requires clear communication, frequent updates, and opportunities for the team to provide feedback.

Process Assessment & Improvement

The central goal of all Lean management practices is to identify and remove inefficiencies that prevent the organization from reaching successful outcomes. In healthcare, positive patient outcomes and experiences define the organization’s success. Health organizations must focus on the patient experience by identifying and removing anything preventing patients from receiving the best care. This may include things like wait and travel times or unnecessary and overly complicated paperwork.

To successfully identify potential problems, healthcare organizations need to look beyond the surface of the problem. Instead of seeing long wait times, it’s essential to understand why the wait times are long and precisely where the process gets held up. Going beyond the obvious is the only way to truly identify and improve healthcare practices.

Continuous Improvement Mindset

Similar to the way healthcare is an ever-growing and changing field, so too are the policies and procedures that make a healthcare organization successful. There is no such thing as a perfect procedure or policy, so perfection should never be the goal. Instead, every single staff member and healthcare team should look for small ways to improve the quality of their roles and the organization at large every day. Part of the communication to the organization should include language around continuing efforts rather than outcomes.

Empowerment of Frontline Staff

A successful Lean healthcare organization will lean on its frontline staff to gather data and information about the success (or not) of various healthcare processes. Frontline staff members are the eyes and ears of the organization, seeing the best and worst of patient care and healthcare procedures. Not only are frontline staff an excellent resource for identifying potential issues within the healthcare system, but they can also help identify potential solutions.

Adaptable Environment

Not every new Lean policy will be successful. Trial and error is the name of the game when it comes to successful Lean integration. Organizations should not only be open to potential changes in policies and procedures, but they should be eager to see change happen throughout the organization. When done well, change means innovation and growth, and that’s the ticket to a successful Lean organization.