Lean management: Three ways to get docs on board

The concept of ‘lean' management in healthcare is hardly new. But despite its potential to cut waste from a medical practice's business operations, many physicians still bristle at the comparison of their objective of healing the sick to that of manufacturing a car.

Here are three ways to overcome such resistance:

  • Don't call it lean. The words you use in describing your initiative have the power to help physicians buy in (which is critical) or tune out before you even begin to analyze what your practice could do better. According to a recent post in the Harvard Business Review, manufacturing jargon such as "A3," "Gemba," "kaizen" and even "lean" may be especially off-putting to physicians. Whenever possible, substitute these with more relatable terms, such as "continuous improvement." And most of all, communications about lean efforts should focus on the end goal--better healthcare--rather than an industrial metaphor.
  • Use healthcare examples. There are enough lean success stories in the healthcare space at this point that it's no longer necessary to even bring airline pilots or Toyota into the discussion. Focus on clinical as well as business improvements, such as reduced mortality rates and increased operating margins of healthcare organizations that have used lean.
  • Keep it simple. The lifecycle of a lean initiative--from creating a value-stream map to brainstorming solutions to measuring your success (and doing it all again)--is not as complicated as it sounds, notes consultant Owen Dahl in a recent Physicians Practice article. Say, for example, that you've been getting complaints from patients that they have to wait too long to see the doctor. You'll only need to review a small, random sample of your patient encounters, such as the first patient each hour, for each doctor, for one week, to determine your current cycle time and then measure results. And remember that very basic changes can achieve dramatic results. As a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, simply removing cabinet doors from exam rooms helped MRI technicians at Atrius Health (which calls itself an accountable care organization) perform two more scans per day, or 700 a year, resulting in roughly $3.5 million in savings last year.

To learn more:
- read this piece from the Harvard Business Review

- see this article from Physicians Practice

- check out this story from the Wall Street Journal

Hospital CEOs: Reform goals doable with lean, Six Sigma, Toyota methods

How lean management helped hospitals avoid layoffs

Suggested Articles

Terminally ill patients who request that physicians make decisions for them get more aggressive end-of-life treatment, according to a new study.

Industry groups say ONC's proposed framework is too broad and does not provide clarity as to how it will be implemented.

Maine has become the eighth state in the country to legalize physician aid-in-dying.