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The Most Important Tools for Lean Management in Healthcare

June 29, 2018 | by Brian Shoenfeld

lean management in healthcareA great benefit of practicing Lean in the healthcare industry is using tools that fuel efficiency and higher performance.

The key, though, is to remember that the tools available for Lean management in healthcare should not supersede your people. The tools should support your employees to drive their growth, which leads to higher efficiency and the results you are seeking in your facility.

When you have the right mentality about how to practice Lean in your facility, you can effectively utilize numerous tools that will help optimize your workflow, reduce waste, find the root cause of errors, and manage constant change from practicing Lean in your facility.

Which Tools Do You Need in Your Healthcare Organization?

In this article, we will highlight six valuable Lean tools. Other tools may also apply to your organization. However, we believe these are the most important tools to achieve your desired results.

Tool #1: High-Level Process Flow Map

A process flow map is useful for three distinct reasons:

  • Illustrate the workflow in your hospital facility so that each employee understands their role in supporting an efficient workflow.
  • Pinpoint when bottlenecks occur and challenges in your process that should be addressed.
  • Build effective communication among your people.

The process flow map is intended to be a high-level view of the steps required. Mapping the current-state process and then brainstorming about the top challenges related to this workflow should expose opportunities for improvement. Addressing those challenges with a continued pursuit of process refinement can lead to major productivity increases while also improving employee engagement.

Tool #2: Value Stream Map

A value stream map is more detailed than a process flow map because it includes the timing associated with each step in the process, the flow of material, and the flow of information.

This Lean tool is intended to document the process with detailed metrics from start to finish to capture the full stream of value. For example, documenting each step and the timing from when a patient schedules an appointment all the way to discharge and follow-up.

Another critical function of a value stream map is comparing current state to ideal future state to focus on what needs to be transformed in your value stream.

  1. Start by understanding the entire process by capturing actual information before making any changes.
  2. Analyze the information, seeking the barriers to flow and the negative impacts to your organization’s Lean metrics.
  3. Create a future-state value stream map to document the ideal process, with improvement ideas incorporated. This should be created with a focus on understanding customer demand, implementing continuous flow, and evenly distributing the workload.
  4. Take action by implementing Kaizen plans.

By mapping out this process, your team will understand exactly which steps present opportunities for improvement and how to arrive at the final result.

Tool #3: A3 Lean Thinking Process

One of the most used and discussed Lean tools is the A3 Lean Thinking Process. This problem-solving approach creates a structured way to document the thought process about the current state problems, proposed countermeasures for improvement, and the plan for implementing countermeasures.

A3 helps define a problem even before you have an idea of how to solve it. Consider the two halves to the A3 tool:

  • Left half: Define the problem and current state.
  • Right half: Define proposed countermeasures (not a solution until proven) and a follow-through plan.

Because Lean is about exposing and completely understanding problems to ensure the right problem is being solved, it is important to be thoughtful and patient when investigating the problem so that the solution becomes more obvious.

Tool #4: Waste Observation Chart

One of the driving principles of Lean is reducing or removing waste from operations. Waste is often thought of as measurable, such as wasted medical supplies. However, waste can also be unmeasurable such as wasted potential.

A waste observation chart helps you define the type of waste that you are looking to identify, analyze, and eliminate. Then, you can categorize waste into two different types:

  • Type One Waste: Pure waste that should be eliminated immediately.
  • Type Two Waste: Non-value added waste that adds no value, but is required based on current processes. (This is sometimes referred to as Business Non-Value Added.)

The waste observation chart will help you find Type One wastes to address in your facility. Additionally, it will help you find ways to become more efficient at managing the Type Two waste that represents the cost of doing business.

Tool #5: Root Cause Analysis

To truly practice Lean in your facility — and not just perform “Lean”-like activity — you need to conduct a Root Cause Analysis to understand the deeper reasons why inefficiencies exist in your system. The objective of Root Cause Analysis is to uncover the root of the problem to avoid only addressing the symptoms of the real problem.

  • Why are certain employees not following processes?
  • Why are managers not communicating effectively with their direct reports?
  • Why are there repeated medication errors?

When you ask the “why” questions related to these common issues in a hospital or other acute care facility, you will uncover critical problems that you may not have otherwise discovered.

Then, you can identify what needs to be adjusted in your workflow — or who needs to be coached or trained — to ensure a more efficient workflow moving forward.

Tool #6: Change Management Plan

The tools available for lean management in healthcare are valuable to support your people and achieve efficiency. However, you need an overall plan to manage the change required to practice Lean.

A Change Management Plan will keep your team on track driving toward the goals that you embedded in each change to your system. Without this plan, you lack an extra layer of accountability and direction to ensure completion. With the plan, you will be able to:

  • Establish benchmarks for when specific changes should take place
  • Track how individual employees are contributing to the process of implementing change
  • Identify whether the team is growing and achieving higher performance on the journey to change.
  • Talon Understands the Importance of Using the Right Lean Tools
  • Each healthcare organization is at a different location on the Lean journey, which means that one tool may be more valuable than another at your specific stage.

Talon is on a similar journey using Lean tools in our processes. This commitment enables us to better help both acute care facilities and hospitals improve the flow of medication in their workflow.

We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss how we can support your facility by optimizing your process for managing medication inventory. Please contact one of our Client Solutions Representatives today for a free consultation.


About the Author

Brian Shoenfeld

Brian joined Talon in 2014 and brought with him a proven track record for project managing, product development, and increasing operational efficiency. Using his knowledge of STEM, business prowess, and healthcare experience, Brian leads Talon’s operational improvements to create better products and improved customer service. When he’s not in the office, Brian spends time with his wife and two sons and cheers on Syracuse.