Explaining Lean in Healthcare
Explaining Lean in Healthcare

One of the more frequent challenges I have is succinctly explaining Lean in Healthcare. May people are either unfamiliar with it, or worse, have had a bad experience with “Lean” – usually done the wrong way. This latter issue is such a problem that in our book, Preventing Physician Burnout, my co-author Diane Shannon and I have a chapter titled “Lean Done Right as the Workplace Solution”. Too many of our fellow clinicians have been victims of Lean management being implemented the wrong way for the wrong reasons.

Two Ways of Explaining Lean in Healthcare

Lately I’ve been thinking about two ways of explaining Lean in healthcare so that people can readily understand how positive and powerful it can be:

  • People-centered leadership to deliver patient-centered care, and
  • A business system that makes sense of the chaos.

Let’s take a look at what each of these descriptions has to offer.

People-Centered Leadership to Deliver Patient-Centered Care

Most of us in healthcare have come to realize the importance of patient-centered care. Every patient is different. In order to provide truly effective care, it’s important to deeply understand the needs of the patient from their viewpoint, and to provide treatment that works for that specific patient in their specific life circumstances.

The same applies for leadership. Everyone in a leadership position, including supervisors, managers, directors, and VPs, has a responsibility to understand that every worker is different. In order to lead each person who directly reports to us, we need to understand their viewpoint and provide coaching and support that meets their individual needs. Healthcare is a team sport, so we also must provide coaching and support to the teams we lead in a way that addresses those teams individuality. This is a key approach that embodies the Lean principle of Respect for People.

Lean “Done Right” is an approach to leadership that does just this. Lean leaders understand the uniqueness of the individuals and teams they lead, and use that understanding to get their people fully engaged.

A Business System that Makes Sense of the Chaos

Healthcare is full of chaos. We feel it as clinicians on the front lines of care. We feel it as leaders at every level in our organizations. And with so much uncertainty swirling around us these days:

  • Will the ACA be repealed?
  • Will contracts with major payers be cancelled?
  • Will we and our patients be able to afford treatment with new and rapidly escalating drug prices?
  • Will (add your own uncertainty here…)

When Lean is done right and fully deployed from the front lines of care to the C-suite, we can regain a lot of control. There will always be an element of chaos and uncertainty. But if we can design our clinics and hospitals so that a doctor or nurse never has to leave a room to get supplies they need, patients are fully prepared as they are handed off from one caregiver to another, and all clinicians caring for a patient communicate well with each other, we can significantly reduce the stress of patient care.

Similarly for leaders – if we can define those truly vital few most important strategies and the metrics that align with them, communicate that to everyone in our organization, define the role of each division and unit in achieving that vision, and assist the front line caregivers in solving problems when they need help, we can become highly effective, and highly adaptable to the unexpected changes that will undoubtedly come.

What’s Your Approach to Explaining Lean in Healthcare?

I’ve given you two of my approaches to this challenge. Both can help prevent physician burnout and return joy to patient care.

What do you think of them?

How do you like to explain Lean? We’d all benefit from your thoughts.

Be brave and share your ideas in the comments below. I’m hoping you’ll do me one better!

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