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Implementation of Lean Thinking: One Health System's Journey

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Background: Lean Thinking is a management philosophy derived from the manufacturing industry, where Toyota has long been the gold standard. Health care organizations have started to apply this approach to patient care. After initial experimentation, the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) has adopted Lean Thinking as its uniform approach to quality improvement and is striving to become a complete Lean organization.

Projects: In 2005, the senior leadership selected an initial set of projects in areas that traced the patient's journey across different care settings within our health system. Four of the projects were as follows: orthopedic surgery clinic scheduling, radiation oncology therapy, peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) services, and coordination of care to the outpatient setting.

Lessons from Lean Thinking: Lean Thinking encourages service providers to focus on value as defined by the customer and the relentless elimination of waste that impedes the flow of value. A series of learning projects were conducted to test whether Lean methods would work at UMHS. The following factors were found to be key to Lean project success: expert guidance for initial efforts, leadership in the form of clinical champions and senior management support of the improvement work, frontline worker engagement in mapping out "current state" processes, identifying waste and designing an improved "future state," using metrics to develop and track interventions, and defining realistic project scope.

Final Reflections: As UMHS's experience applying Lean Thinking to our patient care processes has grown, so have support, enthusiasm, and expertise within the organization. UMHS's Lean Thinking system, now known as the Michigan Quality System, has emerged as the core improvement strategy.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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