In the October 2012 Hospital Impact blog, “Lean Six Sigma and the patient experience,” writer Anthony Cirillo noted that recent reports showed that Lean and Six Sigma efforts reduce costs and improve efficiency. Some reports even praised the models for enhancing employee satisfaction and collaborative problem solving.

The question Cirillo raised, however, is whether Lean Six Sigma improves the patient experience.

Auto Industry Lean Manufacturing Principles Help Stroke Patients

New research in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke indicates using auto industry lean manufacturing principles reduced the time between patient arrival and treatment by an average of 21 minutes.

Specifically, the journal reported:

Using lean techniques, the hospital’s stroke team identified unnecessary or inefficient steps such as inefficient patient transportation, tasks performed one at a time rather than simultaneously, and time-consuming traditional lab-based tests. Protocols were formulated to eliminate wasteful steps, keeping only crucial steps that added “value” to patient care, in keeping with auto-manufacturers’ lean methods which eliminates inefficiencies in automobile production. 

Jin-Moo Lee, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study, notes that national guidelines suggest that door-to-needles times should be less than 60 minutes. As a result of using Lean Six Sigma, 78% of stroke patients received treatment within one hour of arrival. Currently only about 30% of patients in the United States are treated within one hour.

Patient Experience Still Important in Lean Six Sigma

Though there are those who might question whether Lean Six Sigma is more effective than other process-improvement techniques, according to Cirillo the efforts actually fail because of the “complex and political nature of healthcare,” which fails to align the people around the techniques.

According to the August 2012 FierceHealthcare article, “Lean leadership in healthcare: What does it take?”

…in addition to cutting costs, Lean initiatives improve patient safety and reimbursement rates, and create new standards around transparency…

Additionally, in an independent study of 13 Lean projects, staff at all levels reported higher employee satisfaction. They cited better front-line staff involvement in problem solving and employee collaboration.

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