It has long been known that Lean Six Sigma provides benefits for shareholders and customers, but a recent study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) show that healthcare organizations that use Lean Six Sigma report higher employee satisfaction. In fact, an independent comparative study of 13 Lean projects, staff at all levels reported higher employee satisfaction at every institution that used the approach. The study reported that better front-line staff involvement in problem-solving and employee collaboration were cited as reasons for the results.
Healthcare presents its own set of challenges to Lean Six Sigma deployment. AHRQ offers guidelines for introducing Lean Six Sigma into healthcare environments. These include:
- Make your QI efforts about quality, not about meeting a requirement
- Aim for real change, not just re-education
- Empower and excite
- Measure and evaluate
- Start small, dream big
Healthcare quality has been a documented issue since before the publication of “To Err is Human,” which reported over a decade ago that between 44,000 and 98,000 people died in hospitals each year due to preventable medical errors. Sadly, a recent analysis by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimated that 13.5% of Medicare beneficiaries experienced an adverse event during a hospital stay.
This lack of progress demands that healthcare, as an industry, examine new ways to improve their operations. Lean Six Sigma’s long history of successfully reducing errors and costs in other industries demands the attention of the healthcare sector. Reports of successes such as those highlighted above indicate that the approach can provide benefits to all healthcare stakeholders. I applaud these efforts and urge other healthcare organizations to investigate these success stories as possible role models for themselves.