The Lean Hospital

Carol Berczuk


The Hospitalist. 2008;12(6) 

In This Article


What does being lean have to do with operating a hospital? Well, when you're talking about the lean method known as the Toyota Production System, it just may be what puts hospitals back in the driver's seat of their bottom lines.

Six years ago, few hospital administrators had ever heard the term. Today, what began as an experiment at Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center is sweeping through cash-strapped hospitals across the country.

Originally envisioned by the Japanese automaker as a way of doing more with less, the much-copied management system is becoming the gold standard for U.S. hospitals. They are betting that going Toyota lean will streamline processes, increase employee satisfaction, improve their finances, and most importantly, enhance patient care.

What does being lean entail?

"At its core, lean is a process-improvement methodology and management improvement system," says Mark Graban, a senior consultant with Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics' ValuMetrix Services in Rochester, N.Y. Graban teaches the Toyota system to hospitals throughout the country. One of the system's most basic tenets is respect for the work force. Another is that it does not assign blame. Instead, Graban explains, "Lean engages the work force to improve the work they are involved in -- improving process and quality, and reducing delays for patients."


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