Culture as the Key to Lean Transformation in Healthcare

Colleague Shannon McGinley has a good review of the many highlights from the STANLEY Healthcare Customer Conference 2015 (SHCC15), held July 14-17 in Austin, Texas. The many presentations from providers gave a fascinating view of the remarkable innovation underway in healthcare, as organizations seek ways to improve patient care while at the same time becoming more efficient.

It’s no surprise that many hospitals have turned to other industries to learn how to combine quality and efficiency. Lean techniques originally developed in automotive manufacturing are now a central part of many hospitals’ operations and planning. In fact, two speakers at SHCC15 – Ashley Simmons of Florida Hospital, and Beth Kroft of Deaconess Health System – are Lean Six Sigma Black Belts.

You might think that their talks were dominated by strategy and technique– and to be sure there was plenty of this in their presentations – but in fact one key point that both made was the centrality of people to successful transformation of hospital processes. Nurturing a culture this is respectful of caregivers and focused on patients is a necessary perquisite to change. This applies whether the challenge is improving nursing workflow, as at Florida Hospital, or increasing utilization rates for mobile medical equipment, as at Deaconess.

In his closing keynote, lean in healthcare guru Mark Graban (pictured) really drove this point home, remarking that engagement and mindset are as important to lean as techniques. Any process improvement project must empower stakeholders to do their best and make the right choices – no amount of analysis and workflow tinkering, for example, will enable a nurse to complete 80 minutes of work in an hour. Putting her into such a situation is unfair and leaves her with the difficult decision of what to skip. It’s a basic question of respect – recognizing the humanity and agency of each individual.

We would all wish to be treated this way in any working environment, but this seems to me essential in healthcare because the goal is… well, caring. Mark pointed out that many of the most successful healthcare organizations openly embrace the deep, emotive side of healthcare, using terms like “love” to express a patient-focused culture. Now that is healthcare transformation in action.