Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald is relying in part on Lean Six Sigma to reorganize the embattled VA healthcare system. As reported in The Buffalo News article ‘Lean Six Sigma’ comes to the VA; Collins Cheers, this gives Chris Collins reason to celebrate. Collins, a current Republican Congressman from Clarence, NY, championed Lean Six Sigma as a method to streamline county government when he served as Erie County Executive beginning in 2007. Although he lost a re-election bid in 2011, McDonald’s plans to use the system provides some vindication for Collins, who credits the method for some of his fiscal and policy successes in Erie.

McDonald, in a speech on November 6th, explained how the system, combined with another management tool called Human Centered Design, can help the VA:

Great customer service companies use Human Centered Design to understand what customers want and need, and then design customer experiences to meet those needs. Lean Six Sigma makes these processes effective, efficient and repeatable.

For those unfamiliar with the process, Lean Six Sigma focuses on eliminating waste in business operations while at the same time reducing variability in production to maximize efficiency. McDonald believes these methods can help even in a human-services oriented setting like the VA. Wait times for appointments have already been significantly reduced for veterans, and the agency is in the process of decreasing the time it takes to process claims.

McDonald, a retired chairman of Proctor & Gamble, has responded to criticism that the tool is meant for manufacturing corporations and not a large health care network by saying: “People want to have a purpose. That’s belief No. 1.” In other words, using Lean Six Sigma will help bring focus back to the clients and involve both patients and providers in the process of improvement.

Meanwhile, Congressman Collins is hopeful that effective change will finally come to the agency. Some of the problems at the Buffalo VA included reuse of contaminated needles and poor management of patient records. “I have great hopes that this will make for a profound, positive change,” he said.

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