NHS Confederation Releases “Lean Thinking for the NHS”

The United Kingdom has taken an important step in leading the Lean healthcare movement today with the publication of Lean Thinking for the NHS by the NHS Confederation (National Health Service) based on studies done by the Lean Enterprise Academy. You can read the press release here, along with some interesting survey results.
There is also growing awareness for the need to apply principles of the Toyota Production System United States to improve patient safety and reduce cost. An article in the Wall Street Journal on June 14, 2006 titled Hospitals Move to Cut Dangerous Lab Errors reports on efforts healthcare professionals are making in Lean healthcare.
The article reports some interesting facts about a study of 335 pathology-related malpractice claims published last month:
…63% of these claims involved the false-negative diagnosis of cancer and 22% involved the false-positive diagnosis of cancer. One of the most persistent problems is the poor quality of specimens to begin with.
The reason is:
Even though it is usually apparent if the proper cells aren’t present, “the lab will just make a diagnosis on what it gets,” Dr. Raab notes.
The WSJ article reports that University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has been making improvements in these areas.
Dr. Richard Zarbo at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System (fittingly enough) started in January a pilot project based on study of the Toyota Production System:
…to speed up specimen-processing time in the surgical pathology lab, moving racks that load slides on a machine nine feet closer so technicians didn’t have to walk back and forth so often, and processing smaller batches of slides every 20 minutes instead of waiting for the 60 slides necessary to fill the machine.
These are basic yet significant improvements any competent industrial engineer or an experienced assembly line supervisor could have helped this lab accomplish. Perhaps hospitals in the Detroit area should start hiring some of the factory workers GM and Ford are laying off and ask them to create process flow in hospital labs.
In 2001, the lab started an educational program and began rejecting inadequate blood samples through a strict specimen-labeling policy, reducing the number of defective specimens from 1,700 a month to just 30.
Great work Lean Enterprise Academy, doctors and others. Hurry up and get the hospitals Lean so you can work on Lean government.