Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital Increases Efficiencies Through Lean Program

Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital continually looks for ways to improve the patient care process.

Lean Six Sigma Ministry (LSSM) is a process that eliminates waste and reduces variation to be as efficient and productive as possible. Hospitals and clinics within Ministry Health Care are utilizing the LSSM process to reduce the cost of health care services, and improve the quality of care and the health care experience for their patients. The concepts of Lean and Six Sigma have their foundations in the manufacturing industry and have a long history of proven success.

Henry Ford was the first person to truly integrate an entire production process, which evolved to what we today know as “Lean.” In 1913 he married consistently interchangeable parts with standard work and moving conveyance to create what he called flow production in the form of the moving assembly line. His problem with the system was his inability to provide variety.

As Toyota looked at this situation in the 1930s, it occurred to them that a series of simple innovations might make it more possible to provide both continuity in process flow and a wide variety in product offerings. They therefore revisited Ford’s original thinking, and invented the Toyota Production System.

Toyota, the leading “Lean” exemplar in the world, stands poised to become the largest automaker in the world in terms of overall sales. This continued success has over the past two decades created an enormous demand for greater knowledge about lean thinking, and corporations throughout the world are adapting thinking, tools, and principles.

“Six Sigma” seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It was first formulated through the methodology at Motorola in 1986, by Bill Smith. Motorola has reported over $17 billion in savings as of 2006 from utilizing Six Sigma.

In recent years, some practitioners have combined Lean’s waste elimination with Six Sigma error reduction to yield a methodology named Lean Six Sigma.

Ministry Eagle River, along with other Ministry Health Care hospitals, have been using the LSSM process since 2008 to improve the patient care experience by reducing wait times, ensuring appropriate use of tests and supplies, and reducing the cost of services.

“In order to keep patients first in everything we do, teams at Ministry Eagle River continually work together to evaluate processes that impact our patients utilizing the tools of Lean Six Sigma in various departments,” said Sheila Clough, President, Ministry Howard Young Health Care. “This enables staff to provide the best possible care for patients, keeping every aspect of their visit our primary concern.”

Each LSSM project follows a defined sequence of steps and has check in points throughout the process. Most projects normally take three to six months.

There are eight types of waste that are evaluated: unused human talent, waiting time, inventory, transportation, motion, defects, overproduction, and processing time.

“When staff begins a Lean project, they map out the current process to identify and eliminate the eight types of waste,” said Cynthia Heenan, Lean Six Sigma Ministry, Ministry Health Care. “We then gather data to identify root causes and variation in the process to be eliminated to improve the overall process flow for our patients”

Ministry Eagle River has completed two successful projects using Lean over the past year. One of the projects focused on improving the patient admissions process and another project improved the discharge experience for our patients.

“This project involved the full spectrum of staff, from admission’s clerks to housekeepers to nurses,” said Heenan. “We anticipate our next patient at all times and are ready for their arrival.”

A cross functional team of staff members evaluated each aspect of the patient care process. Inefficiencies were taken from the patient admission process and patients are now taken to a hospital room where their care begins sooner. The patient admission team achieved a 52.5 percent reduction in the average time for the patient’s care to begin.

The discharge aspect of the project improved the communication practices between doctors and nursing staff to better ensure a coordinated patient departure time, based on patient status and condition. There was a 49 percent reduction in discharge time so patients can get home and recover in their own home.

“In ample time before a patient is discharged, the nursing staff will ensure the patient is educated on their condition and care and provided with the appropriate services that are needed in their home to ensure they continue their healing process,” said Heenan.

Two projects have been completed at Ministry Eagle River since 2008 and three projects are currently under way. According to Clough, “We are confident the Lean Six Sigma tools are helping us to effectively improve the patient experience in our hospitals. Therefore, we will continue to use these tools to assess our services and constantly strive to for excellence in patient care.”

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