To the continuous-improvement-minded individual, it is always a good time to pursue operational excellence through lean manufacturing or lean six sigma. Each year for the past 3 years, we've ended the year talking about implementing lean in the new year. Of course, the economy hasn't been good in the U.S. for at least 4 years, and, given a bad economy, the pursuit of operational excellence makes good sense. There is at this time, however, another sector of our economy that needs to pursue operational excellence now and would need it even if the economy were booming. That is the healthcare sector. In this article, I will talk about the pursuit of operational excellence in the healthcare sector and why it is important now.
For those of you who are not involved in healthcare, this topic is probably still of interest since all of us are consumers of healthcare services. In the healthcare sector, demand does not drop (for the majority of services) from a down economy. However, a down economy leads to budget cutting in government, and a significant proportion of healthcare payments are made from federal and state governments. Furthermore, an increasing population (and in particular a larger senior population) and the implementation of the new healthcare law will increase demand. Given these factors, now is a great time to pursue operational excellence in healthcare.
What will Operational Excellence in Healthcare, whether we choose Lean Six Sigma for Healthcare or Lean Healthcare, do for the average healthcare organization? The most important benefit is patient safety. By itelf, this is a huge benefit, but it also has the additional benefit of reducing the workload somewhat (by reducing things like re-admittance to hospitals and extended stays in hospitals). Operational Excellence in healthcare also leads to faster turnaround times (and thus increased capacity) for patients; this will ultimately reduce cost, which is vitally important given the factors cited in the previous paragraph. Finally, productivity will improve on both the administrative and the clinical side. This means that healthcare organizations will be able to do more with the same number of resources and, on the administrative side, might be paid more quickly and more accurately with less effort. In general, operational excellence will lower healthcare costs and increase capacity while delivering a much better and safer service to the customer (patient).