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‘Lean methodologies overrated’?

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Front entrance of Virginia Mason’s main building.

A Seattle hospital system has  long been taking a “systems approach” in improving healthcare quality and cutting costs, looking to emulate some of Toyota’s practices.

Virginia Mason Health System has been lauded as being an exemplar of “Lean” methodology, based on eliminating waste and focusing on always adding more value.

But a blogger for Med Page Today who (rather timidly) uses the nom de plume of “Skeptical Scalpel” says Lean may be grossly overrated. He/she writes:

“Attempts to incorporate Lean into healthcare have met with varying degrees of success. I blogged about this 6 years ago and pointed out that a literature review done back then found ‘significant gaps in the [Lean and Six Sigma] healthcare quality improvement literature and very weak evidence that [Lean and Six Sigma] improve healthcare quality.’

Randomized prospective trials of Lean in medicine are lacking. A recent “paper from the Journal of the American College of Radiology found only seven studies on the use of Lean in radiology and they showed ‘high rates of systematic bias and imprecision.’ The authors concluded there was ‘a pressing need to conduct high-quality studies in order to realize the true potential of these quality improvement methodologies [Lean and Six Sigma] in healthcare and radiology.’

“In 2010, Toyota had recalled more than 9 million vehicles for various defects. Nothing has improved. So far this year, Toyota has recalled over 11,654,000 vehicles….”

“Having adopted Lean methodology in 2002, Virginia Mason is not really a new story. How is it doing?

“About as well as Toyota.

“In May of this year, the Joint Commission paid a surprise visit to Virginia Mason Medical Center and found 29 instances where the hospital was out of compliance with standards. The Seattle Times wrote that among the problems were not having an adequate infection prevention and control plan, failure to store medication safely, and failure to provide a ‘care, treatment, services and an environment that pose[d] no risk of an immediate threat to health or safety.”‘


“{I}f Lean works so well in healthcare, can anyone tell me: how does a hospital that has been practicing Lean methodology for 14 years achieve 29 Joint Commission citations?”

To read the whole blog entry, please hit this link.


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