Lean Healthcare – Your Next Profession?

If you’re an industrial engineer with lean skills who is retired, unemployed or just looking for something different, maybe you should consider entering the field of healthcare.

            Junell Scheeres would like you to. She’s a consultant with VHA, Inc., a company that works with a large alliance of not-for-profit healthcare organizations across the country. Recently, I heard her speak at the conference of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, where she made a plea for more engineers to move into healthcare.

            Scheeres quotes the Institute of Medicine from last year that healthcare has been directed to “…harness the power of systems-engineering tools, information technologies and complementary knowledge-systems tools from the fields of social  sciences, cognitive sciences and business applications.”

            Those of us in the lean community have been aware from some time of the powerful movement for greater quality and efficiency in healthcare. Interest in lean concepts is growing as part of that movement.

            (As an aside, Productivity Press has hired a new acquisitions editor, Kris Mednansky, whose mission is to develop books for the healthcare market. You will be seeing some of these within the next year.)

            Scheeres outlined several case studies in her presentation in which industrial engineering approaches were used to address problems. Lean methodologies were part of what she described.

            For instance, she told of how an internal audit at a 403-bed hospital found over 60 percent lost charges in supplies, which led to lost revenue, excess inventory and staff frustration. Implementation of 5S and visual controls led to significant improvements.

            (I was amused that in this example, the most common description of 5S as “sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain” was transformed into “sort, straighten, sanitize, standardize and sustain.” In healthcare, you don’t just shine, you sanitize.)

            Scheeres urges engineers to get involved with healthcare organizations. One way, she notes, is through IIE's Society for Health Systems

“Healthcare is actively seeking viable solutions to the dynamic pressures of the industry,” Scheeres contends. “Industrial engineers bring a comprehensive toolkit ideal to the healthcare setting.”

            I would argue that there are plenty of other people besides engineers who can bring value to healthcare. Non-engineers in operations or logistics, for example, who have experience and who understand process improvement can also make a significant contribution.

            I suspect the number of healthcare organizations that understand that is still relatively small. But it is growing. And the more it grows, the more opportunities that will be available to good people from other industries.

            P.S. – If you’re looking for a good speaker, Scheeres is folksy, personable, energetic, and extremely bright. If the topic fits, consider her.



Ralph Bernstein said...

9/11/2006 2:56:14 PM
Re: Lean Healthcare – Your Next Profession?
By: mgraban

As an Industrial Engineer who moved into healthcare a year ago, I can't agree enough with your comments here. I have also been encouraging folks to enter the healthcare world, it's incredibly rewarding, interesting, and challenging work. Another organization, like VHA, that's doing this lean transformation is Johnson & Johnson ValuMetrix Services (www.valumetrixservices.com). If you're an engineer who is interested in getting into this field, you can always look for job postings at www.jnjcareers.com.

Ralph Bernstein said...

9/11/2006 8:14:57 PM
Re: Lean Healthcare – Your Next Profession?
By: dcbliss57

I agree as well. And the comment about "other people besides engineers" entering helathcare is also a good one. Hospitals are businesses, and a business focus (as well as a process focus), while maintaining the mission of improving the health of the community, is necessary in today's world.

Ralph Bernstein said...

9/20/2006 1:52:17 PM
Re: Lean Healthcare – Your Next Profession?
By: ssaadahm

Lean insider thanks for your posting. Can you post Junell Scheeres emai or phone contact information.

Ralph Bernstein said...

9/20/2006 1:53:41 PM
Re: Lean Healthcare – Your Next Profession?
By: Lean Insider

I don't have her specific contact information. I would suggest trying to track her down through her company, VHA, which is at www.vha.com.