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Big Mistakes Made by Healthcare Organizations Implementing Lean

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Apr 4, 2018 11:34:01 AM

Lean healthcare mistakes.The Lean approach to business management has its roots in manufacturing, but today it is widely used in hospitals and other healthcare organizations. The ideas of waste reduction and process controls are attractive, but some leaders implementing Lean healthcare run into some pretty serious challenges.

Here are a few of the most common mistakes.

Underestimating Resource Requirements

Evaluating and improving processes within a healthcare organization requires the commitment of effort and time by leadership along with employees. While everyone in the organization is responsible for - and should be engaged in - continuous improvement, organizations are most successful when Lean is the full-time job of one or more people. This is a difficult leap of faith for many to take so often someone in human resources or another department is assigned Lean as a side project. When organization transformation is not achieved, the methodology is blamed and sometimes abandoned.

Successful Lean healthcare organizations realize that by devoting resources to Lean, processes are streamlined and improved, and the strain on the rest of the staff goes down.

Check out this webinar to learn how one hospital successfully spreads their Lean culture with just a couple of people dedicated full-time to the job.

When Post-Its Just Don't Cut it Anymore


Lack of Engagement by Leadership

Lean is a new paradigm for healthcare organizations, and it requires a brand-new way of thinking about and managing processes. This is a cultural shift that can not be achieved by delegation; it requires the full, active, and visible engagement of healthcare leaders.

Check out this webinar to learn what leaders can do to spread improvement:

Free Webinar: Leadership Behaviors that Create an Improvement Culture


Limiting the Scope of Lean

Some healthcare organizations limit their implementation of lean to one department or function; the emergency room is a typical department of focus. If you're using a model cell approach to implementing a Lean culture in which you start in one location and build off the success there to spread to others, a single department is a great place to start. If you intend to stop there, though, rather than spread out from the initial point of success, you miss the opportunity to apply Lean healthcare principles across the organization in even non-clinical departments like billing and human resources.

Reluctance to Implement Standard Work

The concept of Standard Work can seem foreign when you have employees who are highly trained individuals with specialized skills, but improvement cannot happen without a standard. Although it may be challenging, it is necessary to get agreement on the best practices, document them, and follow them until an improvement cycle is completed.

Focus on People, Not Processes

This mistake is related to the one above. When one thinks about a healthcare organization, the focus goes right to the doctors and other providers who populate it. But a healthcare organization is also a series of processes including everything from marketing to appointment setting, patient registration, and billing. The best people in the world cannot consistently overcome poorly designed processes. Predictable, high-quality outcomes and waste reduction require attention to each process.

Lack of Focus on the Customer

Lean is all about creating value for the customer, as defined by the customer, with the most efficient use of resources. When the customer is a patient, especially in a hospital where they might not be by choice, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that they are the ultimate beneficiary of your Lean efforts.

Lack of Training

People in healthcare organizations are often stretched very thin and have training requirements that are mandated by regulatory agencies, so it is not surprising that training for Lean is often overlooked. However, the tools and techniques used in successful Lean implementations do require education and people are more able to use them when they have a strong background in the Lean principles. Therefore, training is a must.

Misaligned Metrics

It is tempting to focus Lean efforts on financial metrics because they are usually easy to measure and impressive to specific stakeholders. But the real goal of Lean is creating value, so metrics that measure value (such as your patient satisfaction scores and readmission rates) are needed alongside financial performance measurements.

No Technology to Support the Effort

Lean healthcare is a way of thinking, but it is also a series of process reviews and improvement projects. That’s where Lean healthcare software comes in. It provides structure to all of your Lean efforts and creates a unified database of improvement activities. Leaders can assess the health of Lean within the organization and employees receive streamlined alerts and notifications to make sure work moves forward unimpeded. It also creates a repository of knowledge for the organization so that best practices and lessons learned are retained when the team changes. Importantly, it also makes it easy for Leaders to recognize individual and department contributions and broadcast successful improvements.

All of these mistakes can be avoided with careful planning and attention to detail during the implementation. Those healthcare organizations who have done Lean right enjoy improved patient and employee satisfaction and better financial performance as well.

Topics: Lean Healthcare

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