By Jay McClure
Lean methodologies translate well to the healthcare industry, as evidenced by the numerous books and training resources concerning lean hospitals. But when change is proposed via lean, many people doubt that new policies or programs could benefit them or their jobs. Even so, lean has been proven to help companies in many industries eliminate waste and improve profits while also adding value to the customer. But if senior leadership is interested in process improvement, does this translate to cutbacks or hardships for biomed departments?

Jay McClure

Lean—a system for quality and process improvement, focused on respecting people while reducing waste—originated at the Toyota Production System after World War II. The term “lean” was simply the American reference to the Japanese way of “doing more with less.” Many times, people immediately think “less staff” or “less budget” when they hear “lean,”  but that’s not its intent.

As noted above, lean principles and training focus on respecting people. This focus works to teach employees to identify ways to do their assigned tasks more efficiently, as well as help eliminate wasteful processes within the company. The newfound time, money savings, or new opportunities can be reinvested in new ways to make the company and employees successful. These may come in the form of new, innovative tools and equipment; better software solutions; increased budgets; or simply a storage area that once was an unthinkable junk-room.

A Cultural Shift

Lean is not simply a fad or a program to be tested in select areas of an organization. Instead, it involves a cultural shift, in which staff begin to identify areas and opportunities for improvement. After all, who knows where waste exists within a company better than the employees on the front lines? Training these employees empowers them with the fundamentals to identify problems and the tools to recommend viable solutions. This equips an army of people actively seeking out processes that directly damage the company’s bottom line.

Within the biomed shop, there are usually procedures and policies from times long past, where paperwork orders were once a necessity and spare parts stored in perpetuity. Although there are five principles commonly associated with continuous improvement in lean methodology—defining value, mapping the value stream, creating flow, using a pull system, and pursuing perfection—not all fully relate to the common biomed shop. For instance, continuous improvement focuses on finding better ways to make any process more efficient—and the perfect process is seen as only a myth; there is always room for improvement.

Moreover, the continuous improvement method plan-do-check-act, or PDCA, teaches ways to properly evaluate the benefits of a change, and then decide if the change rendered the desired result or needs to be looked at further. Then there are tools learned, such as “5S”—sort, straighten, shine, standardize, sustain—to help maximize space and organize areas to make tools, parts, or equipment easier to find. When technicians apply these methodologies to their work, they quickly find advantages—and the lessons learned then become part of their personal “way of doing things.” It’s a “win” for both the biomed director and the technicians.

Once members from multiple departments have been trained in lean methodologies, project teams can be formed to help solve the problems that were identified throughout the organization. Note: Differing levels of training offer different opportunities based on the amount of involvement desired with projects. Many organizations offer lean training via internal instructors—usually found within the project management staff—or through consulting companies, such as Hawkeye Business Solutions.

Hospital employees trained on lean methodologies can also achieve white, yellow, or green belt certification and then display their achievements to fellow employees via special-colored badge reels or other ways. This allows staff to ask trained employees for suggestions or help with problems, or to invite them onto work groups to help solve larger issues. It’s another “win”—this time for the organization as a whole.

In conclusion, although change is sometimes viewed as unsettling or scary, it’s not always a bad thing. By implementing solutions to your organizational pitfalls through lean staff training, problems can be handled at the lowest levels. Employees are empowered to identify and make changes by participating in the design and implementation of the solution. This lends to increased buy-in and greater employee satisfaction—a “win-win” for both the organization and the biomed shop.

Jay McClure is an Army-trained medical equipment repairer, currently working as a senior sales and service technician for Atlantic Biomedical, with more than 10 years of industry experience. Questions and comments can be directed to 24×7 Magazine chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at kstephens@medqor.com