Toyota's New Line of Products... Hospitals?

The adoption of lean initiatives within the healthcare industry has gained some notoriety in the mainstream press, and I'm sure most lean advocates can't rejoice enough. Many would agree that the ultimate victims of the built-in process variation and waste within the systems of the healthcare industry, from hospitals to suppliers, are the consumers. And, unlike nice-to-have products such as cars and computers, most customers don't have such luxuries as time and choice when "shopping" for healthcare services and products.

A article recently appeared
here about the improvements the University of Michigan Health System have achieved after adopting a Toyota-styled approach to administrative and operating process. I think the most important statement about the future of this lean initiative can be summed up in this one quote from Jack Weiner, CEO of St. Joseph Mercy: “We do not view lean as a program. They are cultural transformations because you change how you do the work.” I think it's refreshing that, other than talking about the improvements gained early in the adoption, one of the pivotal leaders is already acknowledging that lean is as much about thinking as it is doing.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges to the adoption of lean in the healthcare industry? Do you think the initial resistance could come from physicians and practitioners who could argue that a lean transformation will ultimately stall because patients will never be "products" and believe that the drive for ultimate efficiency will overlook the nuances and hinder the customized needs of the patients?


Dean Bliss said...

We're working hard to apply the philosophy and tools from Toyota to healthcare. Michael, you nailed some of our key obstacles, but the overall situation is similar to the early days of Lean in manufacturing - building belief, building culture, and proving the value of continuous improvement.

Steve Halpin said...

Lean is so relevant for healthcare, particularly here in Ireland.
Firstly, the language has to change - no japanese words and no mention ofv manufacture of efficiency - its all about patient care.
However, there is a huge challenge in influencing thev culture, particularly within public healthcare. There can be many vested interests and representative groups, not to mention the politics of healthcare. It represents a huge portion of the public budget and nobody wants to see their slice of the pie reducing.
I'd be keen to hear how anyone has tackled the cultural change required in public healthcare.