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Kaizen: Continuous Improvement Ideas for Health Care

By Joel Bradbury

kaizen and healthcare workers

Healthcare reform has placed pressure on hospitals to streamline their practices in the face of shrinking budgets and increasing demands. Budgets are strained as Medicare and Medicaid set fixed prices for services that are much lower than the prices paid by other insurances. ERs are then overwhelmed because many private practitioners refuse to take these insurances. Instead of seeing 100 patients, an ER might see 200 patients without additional resources.

Using Kaizen in Healthcare

Lean tools can increase efficiency and help hospitals stay within their budgets. While numerous lean tools can be used in hospitals, Kaizen is particularly useful because it focuses on continuously improving every aspect of a workplace. 

Healthcare Kaizen is a lean tool that focuses on small, continuous improvements throughout the workplace. Each small change results in a minor improvement. As time passes, these minor improvements add up to significant steps forward in efficiency, quality, safety, and workplace culture.

Kaizen’s potential comes from its inclusive approach. Unlike other improvement programs, Kaizen’s success depends on participation from all employees. This means that directors, nurses, doctors, nursing assistants, technicians, accountants, purchasers, and administrators need to examine their daily routines and make suggestions for improvements. Key to the Kaizen philosophy is that it is continuous. Kaizen becomes part of the workplace culture when it is practiced every day by everyone

Getting Started: Continuous Improvement in Healthcare

Kaizen’s potential comes from recognizing that the people performing the work (including nurses, radiologists, and doctors) know the most about their job and how to improve it. The resulting changes are centered on what’s important in the hospital—quality of care and patient safety.

To make Healthcare Kaizen successful:

  • Ensure everybody knows that Kaizen is becoming a critical part of the workplace. Have meetings and use visual communication throughout the hospital to remind healthcare professionals to practice continuous improvements.
  • Ensure all department heads and supervisors know what Kaizen is, how to facilitate engagement, and how changes should be implemented. Train everybody before Kaizen starts.
  • Make a plan for getting everybody involved. Will suggestions be made through a suggestion box or idea board? Will healthcare professionals approach their supervisors to propose improvements?
  • Make a plan for sharing improvements. For instance, idea boards can be used to track changes. Workers place their suggestions on the board, and supervisors, in turn, put their response on the board. This continues until each improvement is completed.
  • Make a plan for keeping people involved. This could mean allowing people to implement their own suggestions, as well as letting people see the results (metrics) of the change.
  • Make a plan for responding to every suggestion. Responses should go into detail about how the suggestion is being implemented. No change is too small to be implemented.

Doing these things will ensure that Kaizen is successful, is practiced, and continues to increase efficiency.

Ideas for Continuous Improvement in Hospitals

Once Kaizen is underway, it can be difficult to know what Kaizen can improve. The good news is that Kaizen can help anywhere someone notices a need for improvement. Kaizen helps by streamlining workflow, improving organization, increasing safety, and ensuring that resources are used effectively.

kaizen in use in hospital operating room

Streamlining Workflow

Pay special attention to areas where work slows down. For example, unnecessary slowdowns and life-threatening emergencies can arise from equipment or people being in the wrong area at the wrong time, such as in the emergency room too early or too late. Try creating visual workflow with signs, labels, color coding, and floor marking to communicate where equipment goes and when it is needed.

Empower Kaizen and use 5S to help remove clutter, streamline workflow, improve communication, and reduce the time procedures take from start to finish.

Improving Organization

Ensuring that medication and tools are stored in the proper location is essential to workflow and patient safety. Using clear visual communication improves safety by ensuring patients receive the medication and dose they need. It can also increase efficiency by letting people quickly find and store medication.

Increasing Safety

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2011 that 75,000 deaths were caused by healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Many HAIs can be prevented by implementing procedures and improving surgical practices. Develop a clear visual communication system to remind healthcare workers how they can reduce HAIs, saving lives and billions of dollars each year.

Properly Using Resources

Are nurses spending time on tasks, such as changing sheets or doing laundry, which could be handled by someone else? Look for situations where nursing assistants or other non-licensed healthcare workers can take over these tasks. This will free up nurses to work in areas that require their expertise, such as seeing patients. In the long run, this will save money and increase overall efficiency. More patients can be helped during each shift.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of what Kaizen can improve. Kaizen’s guiding philosophy of continuous improvement makes it a flexible lean tool that can meet the unique challenges of any industry, from manufacturing and finance to healthcare and IT.

Help with Continuous Improvement?

Need more information about Kaizen and how to implement it in your workplace? Graphic Products offers an in-depth Best Practice Guide to Kaizen to solve problems, reduce costs, and increase efficiency.

Proper labeling and signage play an important role in making Kaizen successful. Clear signage can make healthcare workers aware of changes to workflow, increasing efficiency; meanwhile, visually communicating safe practices can reduce HAIs, saving lives and dramatically reducing liability costs.

This signage can be produced on-site and on-demand with DuraLabel industrial label & sign printers by Graphic Products. With a variety of printers and more than 50 specialty supplies, we can provide the right tools for your needs.

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