Why Does Lean Have a Hard Time in Hospitals?

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Over the next few weeks, we will be discussing Lean programs in the healthcare industry. To begin, let’s define what Lean is – according to their own website:

“The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.”

Additionally, Lean programs try to eliminate waste, reduce time, and reduce total costs through tools such as value stream mapping, error-proofing, and control charts. While these all sound like they would be extremely helpful to implement in hospitals, Lean projects have a notoriously negative reputation among providers. While only 40% of Lean projects succeed long term nationwide, even fewer succeed in the healthcare world – just 20%. So where is the disconnect? Why is it so much more difficult for hospitals to successfully implement these concepts?

Not enough support from executives.

Implementing a hospital-wide program like this necessitates the involvement of the executive team. When a Lean team is trying to implement without the backing of executives, it can be difficult to motivate everyone hospital-wide. This is especially difficult with complex hospital hierarchical structures. To completely capitalize on these changes, experts often advise executives to give incentives to employees related to Lean, such as tying bonuses directly to outcomes.

Not devoting enough resources to the project.

Lean often becomes a part-time side project for existing employees – departments such as human resources or organizational development are normally the ones tasked with this feat. To be successful, a hospital should have one person or a team of people who are solely devoted to implementing Lean. Tacking Lean on to an employee’s previous responsibilities only increases the likelihood that it will fall to the wayside over time.

Not paying enough attention to ROI.

While process improvement is always a worthwhile endeavor, sometimes hospitals don’t look at how the processes they implement will affect their bottom line. Some improvements are considered non-value added, and while that doesn’t necessarily make them worthless, there should always be a big-picture consideration for the financial side of the project. When the cost of implementing something is larger than the amount saved, it’s not truly benefiting anyone.

Not standardizing practices.

Lean is all about continuity – when each department has different expectations, the whole project can fall apart. One way to avoid this is to make sure the entire Lean team communicates expectations and guidelines well. Making sure everyone plays by the same rules helps keep the whole project cohesive.

While there are a number of reasons that Lean projects tend to fail in the healthcare industry, they can produce incredible results when done correctly. Over the next few weeks, we will dive into what successful Lean projects look like and how they can impact a hospital.

Topics: change management