You may have heard about the KAIZEN™ methodology. It follows the practice of Continuous Improvement by achieving small goals, one at a time, every day. Although it was created due to an industry need after World War II with the aim of improving Toyota's productivity, KAIZEN™ is now recognized worldwide as an important long-term competitive strategy for organizations. The KAIZEN™ methodology is not limited to a specific business area nor sector and can achieve remarkable results in various sectors such as Healthcare.
COVID-19 challenging Industries
The current COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how industries across the globe can be challenged, especially the healthcare sector with hospitals specifically vulnerable. The current crisis highlights the importance of a KAIZEN™ implementation and the subsequent Lean processes to help us be prepared for a crisis and to overcome it.
KAIZEN™ is an Important Methodology for the Healthcare Sector
According to Daniel Simões de Oliveira, partner of Kaizen Institute Brazil and Managing Director of Kaizen Institute North America, “KAIZEN™ is an important methodology for the healthcare sector to (i) level the demand and capacity of teams, (ii) increase patient satisfaction and safety, (iii) reduce cost and control the supply chain, and (iv) reduce overall patient waiting time”.
Furthermore, Oliveira underlines that KAIZEN™ methods applied in hospitals can help the management team to improve their work, which leads to benefits for both the hospital and the patient. With KAIZEN™ it is possible to reduce the time spent on scheduling surgeries, which is the time between the entry of the medical order until the approval by the surgeon (Hospital São Camilo project: Lead Time reduction by up to 50%). Avoiding the waste of raw materials is also achievable (Hospital do Câncer Cuiabá project: raw materials cost reduction by up to 60%). Furthermore, KAIZEN™ controls the entry and exit of patients better, which reduces the number of people on waiting lists.
Benefits of KAIZEN™ Implementations
“These actions, which also lead to increased profitability of hospitals, have a positive impact on the hospitalized person and those needing appointments, as they will have certainty regarding scheduled times, thus avoiding frustrating delays due to the lack of effective and efficient management”, highlights Oliveira.
Other benefits of applying KAIZEN™ in hospital management are the reduction of disallowances and minimization of financial risks. The KAIZEN™ methodology is also used to identify various vulnerabilities, such as bottlenecks in processes and low staff performance, including declining morale.
KAIZEN™ in Action – Developing a Hospital Logistics System (HLS) through Continuous Improvement and Process Innovation
The HLS, which has been implemented worldwide (also in several hospitals in Brazil), focuses on both eliminating waste and innovating operational and logistical processes by using KAIZEN™. It enables hospitals to improve their process management, transforms the organizational culture, and promotes stronger collaboration between professionals as well as their greater involvement in the core processes of the various departments.
This system was designed and first implemented in Portugal and led to improved financial results, including stock reduction. The subsequent increased efficiency and effectiveness is reflected in higher staff satisfaction as more time is now dedicated to patient care. Additionally, the efficiency of the surgical center has been improved after redesigning its processes and synchronizing all its internal supply chains. These improvements have been achieved through the application of concepts and tools like Flow, Leveling and Synchronization, Visual Management, Cell Design, and Pull Systems.
The foundation of HLS: The Principles of Continuous Improvement
The principles of Continuous Improvement* are foundational to the implementation of a HLS. One of the principles is to make processes flow and therefore the KAIZEN™ approach focuses on both the administrative processes of the surgical center (like organizing and scheduling surgeries), and on operational matters (e.g., the management of the central pharmaceutical warehouse). Improvements in both areas, administration and operations, is a more holistic and sustainable way to achieve improved outcomes.
Through internal workshops, team members are encouraged to question their day-to-day routines and develop more efficient and effective ways to achieve results, always based on KAIZEN™ principles and practices.
In terms of process innovation, KAIZEN™ projects have focused on studying and developing a new method of replenishing pharmaceutical and clinical materials. The development of supply chains included the reorganization of central warehouses, the creation of small logistics vehicles (Mizusumashi). The adoption of the KANBAN model and the training of logistics operators who execute the replenishment routes, were some of the other innovations brought to the hospital environment by the HLS.
*The five foundational KAIZEN™ principles are: (i) Know your customer, (ii) Let it flow, (iii) Go to gemba, (iv) Empower people, and (v) Be transparent