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Lean Six Sigma: A Powerful Strategy for Healthcare Providers

Like every company, healthcare businesses do their work through processes, and any process can be studied and improved using basic Lean Six Sigma methods.

As with any other business, if the core value stream of a healthcare organization is to function effectively, there have to be many support processes. These include the administrative duties that allow the hospital to run efficiently and the supply chain operations that provide the needed supplies and equipment.

Most of the entrance, exit, and support processes are the same kind of transactional processes that occur in any business. Other methods are logistics—making sure that the right supplies, equipment, and medications are where they need to be, in the right quantity, and at the right time.

Once you start looking at these functions as processes, it becomes clear that there are many opportunities for applying Lean Six Sigma to make improvements.

Lean Six Sigma has already been very successful in many healthcare organizations. For example, a hospital was averaging 90 minutes to complete the turnover of operating rooms used for hip and knee replacements. Using lean tools—including value stream maps, waste assessments, 5S methods, and quick changeover—the hospital was able to reduce turnover to less than 30 minutes, saving 60 minutes in cycle time. That made the rooms available for additional operational procedures each day, meaning that more patients could receive treatment more quickly. Also, the hospital replicated the ideas with similar methods used in other surgeries and saw gains in multiple areas.

In the world of quality improvement, complexity is a single source of waste, delays, and errors in processes. Some complexity in healthcare organizations is imposed from the outside by regulations, insurers, and government agencies, and there may not be much that they can do about that. But there is also a significant amount of complexity that is self-induced—and that can be addressed with Lean Six Sigma.

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