Authors: Marlin D. Minnis | Sr. Director of Client Services

Since its introduction to the vehicle industry in the last century, the Lean Method has been used to improve processes in all sorts of settings—including healthcare and, yes, SPDs. An ongoing effort to improve processes, Lean’s primary approach is to simplify processes by removing unnecessary steps. These steps can be the root of wasted time, effort, and resources that in healthcare can endanger patient safety and have a negative impact on overall staff satisfaction.

Here’s what we learned about Lean in 2019:

Lean takes time, training, and more time.

If you’re implementing Lean for the first time, your employees will need guidance in order to carry out the process properly—and they probably won’t master it right away. In our piece, “3 Do’s and Don’ts of Lean in SPD,” we covered this and more, including the need for interdepartmental collaboration and the fact that Lean isn’t a one-and-done process. Lean should be used over and over again to ensure that your processes are in tip-top shape.

Lean can be used to improve clinical outcomes and staff satisfaction.

If SPD processes are full of unnecessary steps, inefficiency can impede quality assurance processes. If QA falls through, instrumentation may not be processed properly, and improperly processed instrumentation can lead to delays—or worse, poor patient outcomes—in the operating room. If SPD problems routinely cause issues in the OR, surgical staff may leave to work elsewhere. But all of this can be avoided if you implement the Lean Method on the front end and ensure that processes run as they should, with all of the necessary steps and none of the unnecessary ones.

Lean can save hospitals loads of cash.

A case study from the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital illustrates the cost savings available if Lean is used to standardize surgical trays. The hospital reviewed the surgical trays of four different procedures with three general thoracic surgeons and agreed on the minimum number of surgical instruments needed for each tray. Instrumentation was reduced by 44–75 percent, reducing tray weight by about 70 percent, and from January 2016 to December 2016, the hospital saved an estimated $69,412 due to the reductions. Our articles throughout the year referenced other case studies that found other significant cost savings by implementing the Lean Method.

Lean can set leadership up for success.

Leadership—whether in the SPD, the OR, or hospital administration—are accountable for the failures of their departments. If communication problems or lack of expertise are setting up the SPD for failure, it’s up to the SPD manager to set up needed systems and provide the appropriate training to personnel in order to solve those problems. If an OR lacks the needed instrumentation due to perioperative leadership not having the necessary visibility into surgical instrumentation needs, it’s the leader’s responsibility to arrange processes and systems to fill the gap. If personnel dissatisfaction due to poor coordination of processes between departments is leading OR or SPD staff to leave the facility, healthcare administrative staff must workshop solutions. The Lean Method helps all of these leaders identify the broken links in their chains and improve operational processes for the best outcomes.


What’s Coming with Lean in 2020?

We’ve seen the impact of Lean on back-of-house operations in hospitals, but what about the front-of-house, patient-facing operations? How might Lean improve processes in patient scheduling, billing, and the waiting room? 

Perhaps your facility has already started using Lean on the patient side—if not, 2020 may be the year to start. We’re anticipating more cost savings and greater patient satisfaction as processes become smoother and more intuitive.

What predictions would you make?

Transitioning from a Manual Process to Automated Instrument Management

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