Case study: Hospital takes lessons from Toyota

Among a certain breed of progressive hospitals, it's becoming increasingly in vogue to lift efficiency lessons directly from leaders in industrial manufacturing. One such case is Seattle's Virginia Mason Hospital and Medical Center, which began rethinking its processes in 2000 when leaders noticed that the hospital was built around staff, not patients. After searching for better options, execs discovered the Toyota Production system, known best as "lean manufacturing." In 2002, Virginia Mason's managers traveled to Japan to visit Toyota and Yamaha plants and get a sense of why they were turning out great results. Since then, nearly 200 employees have had such tours.

Studying lean manufacturing has led to a host of changes at Virginia Mason, some small and some very significant. For example, the hospital now uses a system that puts a reminder card at the bottom of a set of supplies, allowing workers to re-order just when those supplies are needed. Execs created standardized instrument trays for surgeries and procedures, saving hundreds of dollars by making sure only needed instruments are opened (which avoids having to discard of opened but uninsured ones). Yet another changes borrowed from manufacturing is the patient safety alert system. As on the manufacturing floor, if an error is found, the whole process is stopped and the problem fixed immediately--while most hospitals typically fix problems after the fact, when they've occurred multiple times.

These, and dozens of other changes, have led to many tangible benefits, including an 85 percent reduction in how long patients wait to get lab results back, plus lowering costs by $1 million. They've also redesigned facilities to make patient and staff workflow more productive, reducing overtime and temp labor expenses by $500,000 in one year and increasing productivity by 93 percent.

To learn more about Virginia Mason's process redesigns:
- read this Seattle Post-Intelligencer article

Related Articles:
BIDMC uses lean production approach. Report
Memorial Hospital-South Bend - Hospital innovators 2007. Report

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