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  • Susan Snedaker

Starting A Lean IT Journey

Lean and Healthcare IT

Many healthcare organizations have embarked on a Lean journey. Stories of successes as well as stumbles are everywhere. Most of the efforts are focused, as they should be, in the patient care areas of healthcare organizations. After all, the very point of Lean is to add value to the customer. For many in healthcare IT, the journey has been a bit circuitous. Copying what is being done in a patient care area clearly is not the answer, the differences are too great. There are two foundational elements, though, that these two areas (patient care, IT) do share.

First and foremost, it’s about the customer

OK, so in healthcare, we usually call the customer a patient. And, in healthcare, there is an understandable reluctance to call a patient a customer. There are distinct differences between a customer and a patient – the most glaring is the matter of choice. Most patients do not have a choice about being a patient or not. If someone has a life-threatening illness, an allergic reaction or a broken bone, you seek treatment and become a patient. A customer implies a bit more choice. You can shop around, you can probably wait for something, you can decide if you want to pay a lot or a little, the list goes on. So, patients are a type of customer, but they are always patients.

In that vein, we need to understand that the patient is always first and foremost in everything we do. However, for healthcare IT, the work we do usually touches the care providers first and the patients second. Consider a surgical suite filled with sophisticated medical equipment and computers. The surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and techs are using the computers and equipment to care for the patient.

The same is true on a nursing unit where the computers, printers, bar code scanners, laptops, tablets, and phones are all used to facilitate the care of the patient, but they are not typically used by the patient.

So, it becomes pretty easy to define what’s important in healthcare IT – deploying the right technology at the right time in the right way to facilitate the fast, efficient, effective, and safe care of our patients. To that end, healthcare IT has a pretty clearly defined mission and it becomes much easier to see how to keep the customer in mind when evaluating the work we do.

Second, it’s about continuous improvement

When evaluating a starting point for Lean, many healthcare IT people often ask “Where should we start? We don’t directly impact infection rates or hospital acquired conditions.” True, we usually don’t, but our providers do and we need to provide tools and technology that are easy to use, that achieve the desired outcomes, and that are effective for their stated purpose in order for care providers to be more effective.

Another way of looking at it is this: reduce technology friction.

  • Make work easier, not harder.

  • Use fewer clicks, not more.

  • Simplify, don’t complicate.

  • Automate, integrate, validate.

So, if you’re wondering where to start, start here. Have your team ask:

  • Who is our customer and what do they need?

  • What services do we provide and how can we make them easier to use?

  • How well are we doing now and how do we know? (how do you measure success?)

  • How do we know? (yes, that’s the seeming ‘trick’ question in the batch - this implies that if you have not listened to the voice of the customer and have not been to the place where the work occurs (gemba), you do not have the full picture – go see, listen, and learn.)

Once you can answer these questions, you can easily figure out where to start. Lean is about making incremental improvements. So, determine how and where you can make a meaningful improvement for your customers and start there.

Share your stories here and check back here for updates on starting your healthcare IT Lean journey.

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