What is Lean and What’s it Doing in Healthcare?

Last week, UC Irvine announced that they are offering a new continuing education specialization focused on Lean thinking for healthcare professionals.  Lean is (and really, has been for many years) increasing in popularity among healthcare institutions.

Lean tools are defined as “help to examine business processes and focus on minimizing unnecessary costs, reducing waste and improving inefficient procedures” (from Portland State University, which also has this great primer on Lean basics).  As a clinician, your hospital may or may not have dabbled in some form of Lean thinking. If terms like “Waste,” “5S,” “Gemba,” or “Value Added vs Non-Value Added” sound familiar, then you have likely been exposed to Lean.

If you have been introduced to Lean, one question you may have is “why?”  It’s normal for nurses to wonder why management is throwing what seems like another thing on top of nurses’ increasingly full plates.  And if a consultant spends a couple of hours just throwing out terms and concepts with little contextual explanation, it makes even less sense.  But when implemented appropriately, Lean can make all of the activities around patient care run much more efficiently.  Ideally, previously time-consuming tasks such as double checking for lab results, searching for supplies, playing phone tag with other clinicians, and waiting for consults become far less frequent.  The time made up can be applied to more attentive patient care, less stress on nurses, and being able to clock out on time!

Of course, getting to the previously mentioned utopian state is easier said than done.  And doing so is far beyond the scope of this blog post.  But I would encourage all clinicians to at least approach the idea of Lean in their organization with an open mind.  Lean is a big part of the future of healthcare, and embracing it early can pay dividends for the organization, the nurse, and most importantly, the patient.

 

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