Lean and Six Sigma approaches have long been used by hospitals and health systems to increase efficiency, decrease waste, and improve the patient experience.
It’s easy to understand why the methodologies would be adopted so widely. In an industry focused intently on value, approaches that center on value specifically – and that have proven their impact in other industries – are certain to attract notice.
Yet, for all their popularity, Lean and Six Sigma have yielded mixed results for healthcare organizations. In some cases, improvement programs have produced notable change, with outcomes ranging from increased patient satisfaction to decreased cost per patient. In many other cases, no meaningful outcomes have been produced.
With numerous examples on each side of the fence, the question is not whether Lean is effective or not. Rather, the question is: What separates the successful programs from those that fail? While many factors can impact the success of a process improvement initiative, two themes seem to appear most frequently in the media and research literature.