Process Innovation and Lean Thinking in Healthcare

When we think of Lean and process innovation our normal reaction is to think of its use in manufacturing organisations. We don’t normally associate lean thinking with Healthcare but when we look closer at lean philosophies it is easy to make an argument that the elimination of waste, improvements in flow and patient centred processes should be the at the forefront of our healthcare strategy.

The Japanese car maker, Toyota, created what we now know as lean manufacturing in the 1930s. The Lean approach, based on Toyota’s concepts, relates to the complete elimination of waste (called “muda”), by focusing on improvement and flow control techniques. A process or activity is considered value-added if it is aligned to the customers interests, in effect it could be defined as any activity that increases the form or function of the service.

The foundation of a lean implementation relies in the core principles: eliminate waste, create flow and have respect for people, the agents of change. Lean implementations demand changes in mindsets of healthcare professionals and administrative staff, truly understanding that lean thinking is not just about reducing waste but enhancing efficiency while having the patient at the centre of the care.

Finally, it must be made clear to staff that lean ideals focus on freeing resources to focus on core higher value work; in opposite to the wrong idea that lean management results in staff reduction.

In the next number of articles, we are going to look at the definition of waste and how it can be applied within our daily work environments. We will look at the lean principles and we will also discuss how to build a plan to begin the move towards a lean organisation. We will address the 5 rings of Lean:-Vision, Structure, People, Principles and Tools