Lean Primer for Healthcare Analytics Professionals – Overview

by Trevor Strome on December 4, 2010

This is the first in a series of articles to enhance the role of analytics professionals in Lean Healthcare transformation initiatives. This blog series will provide the foundation analytics professionals need to develop and implement the analytics tools that are essential to launching and sustaining healthcare transformation activities. We will focus on developing appropriate visualizations, applying meaningful statistics, and communicating information in the context of the tools and techniques of Lean and healthcare transformation. We will also review other resources such as websites and books to round out your Lean knowledge base.

What is Lean?

Lean Transformation in Healthcare has potential to increase both the quality and safety of patient care while enhancing the work environment for clinical staff. An emerging discipline, Lean has been applied in continually increasing numbers of Healthcare Organizations (HCOs) with measured and verifiable success in improving patient care, satisfaction, and safety.

Lean seeks to eliminate wasteful practices

In essence, Lean is a systematic process of identifying and eliminating waste and evaluating and sustaining improvements. Lean seeks to enable people to do their good work better; it does not mean doing more with less. According to the National Health Service (NHS), “Lean thinking helps to identify the least wasteful way to provide better, safer healthcare to patients – with minimal delays.” This is usually accomplished by eliminating barriers and interruptions to the smooth flow of work.

Creating value via creativity

One of the basic tenants of Lean is “creativity before capital”. This requires that staff be empowered to experiment with ideas – to learn from ideas that don’t work, and sustain those changes that do have a positive impact.

When Lean is applied in a healthcare setting, it is wise to focus on what provides “value” to the customer (usually the patient). From the Lean perspective, anything that improves the patient’s care and overall experience is adding value; anything else is waste.

The Lean tool set helps teams walk through existing processes and interactions to remove or reduce those steps that do not add value to the patient.

It’s OK to experiment

Lean requires the strong support of hospital management and commitment from staff. Hospital management must be willing to allow front-line staff to identify improvement opportunities and their priorities, and to experiment with possible solutions.

All staff (participating in Lean projects or not) need to break out of the constraints of how things are done “now” and imagine how they can “be” – but also to draw the roadmap of how to get there.

Analytics are becoming an essential Lean tool

While Lean is not an analytics-centered approach per se, data and metrics reporting figures very prominently in successful Lean projects. Analytics are key to understanding current performance bottlenecks and helping to monitor process changes to ensure that innovations designed through Lean initiatives are being implemented and followed-through; this is how changes are sustained within busy healthcare organizations.

Be part of the discussion! Please feel free to comment below on how you have been applying analytics in Lean healthcare transformation initiatives.

The next couple of articles will focus on defining value and identifying waste in healthcare workflows. Of course, the discussion will be around how analytics plays a role in these activities, and how best to communicate the result of analytics to be user-friendly and useful to healthcare transformation teams. Visit us often for future articles in this series, or better yet, follow us by RSS feed or subscribe to our updates by email (see sign-up options on the left panel)!

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