Go Lean: Lean Manufacturing

Go Lean: Lean Manufacturing

by Keith Loria, Reporter | March 04, 2009

Reiss warns that you may lose people along the way.

"There are some managers who can't work that way," he says. "The opposite of lean is mass production and that's a common way of doing manufacturing and there are people who believe wholeheartedly in that and won't change to lean."

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Hospitals Getting in on the Act

In the past few years, many hospitals have applied lean production techniques and have seen improvements in their efficiencies.

Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston is one of the region's leading proponents of the Toyota Production System and has used the method to address everything from patient paperwork backups to clogged waiting rooms in various specialty departments.

BIDMC CEO Paul Levy says that lean methods have reduced average wait times in the orthopedics department to 84 minutes from 187 minutes. They have also been able to eliminate extra steps. One method has their patients self-checking into an X-ray waiting room where they can signal electronically that they have arrived, allowing technicians to speed up the process.

After hearing about lean manufacturing in 2002, Seattle's Virginia Mason Hospital and Medical Center sent their managers to Japan to visit Toyota and Yamaha plants to get a better understanding of how the process worked. In the ensuing years, more than 200 staff members have taken the trip.

According to Dr. Gary Kaplan, Virginia Mason's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, studying the process led to many changes at the hospital, including redesigning facilities to make patient and staff work flow more productive.

They 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 unused instruments. They have 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. They also instituted a patient safety alert system, where if an error is found, the whole process is stopped and the problem fixed immediately.

"We get so wrapped up in the seriousness and specialness of health care, but we also have to open our eyes to other industries, we're way behind in information specialists and taking waste out of our process," Kaplan said at the outset of the lean manufacturing techniques being instituted. "Toyota is obsessed with the customer and customer satisfaction. All those things Toyota was about were what we wanted."