Over the years, we have had several posts applying lean operations to health care (see, for example, this or that). However, we have yet (I think) to post anything on Virginia Mason. Despite what its name might suggest, Virginia Mason is located in Seattle and has long been known as a leader in taking lessons from Toyota and applying them to health care. Now, in the form of a report from PBS’s NewsHour, we have an excuse to remedy that oversight (Rooting Out Waste in Health Care by Taking Cue From Toyota Assembly Lines, Oct 24). Check it out!
There are a couple of cool things going on here that reflect different aspects of Toyota production principles. Take eliminating waiting rooms. This minimizes inventory and hence waste. But it also allows for visual control. If your waiting room seats 200, having 20 people in it is not a source of alarm. If you waiting room seats 20, however, it’s a different story. With just 10 people waiting, things start to look bad and presumably a sense of urgency to figure out why things are backing up.
Putting a medical assistant in charge of patient flow in the clinic has a similar feel. The individual care giver is hard pressed to walk out of an exam room and know immediately what needs to happen next. An MA monitoring who’s doing what a central display is able to make sure that resources are deployed where they are needed most.
Finally, having checks built into the system that limit who gets an MRI is a nice example of mistake proofing the system. I’m sure that some physicians chafe at not being able to jump to that test but if there is agreed upon process for treating back pain, this assure that docs are sticking with it.