Just What the Doctor Ordered

Hospital patients are usually eager to leave, and hospitals are usually pretty eager to get rid of them. So why does a typical visit involve so much timewasting and waiting around? A report this week on public radio’s “Marketplace” looked at how one healthcare provider, Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, has been addressing this issue.

Image source: US Navy/Flickr

[EXPAND More]In 2006, Barnes hired a former Toyota executive named Kent Rubach to help put better processes in place. Rubach had no background in medicine, but he’d picked up the principles of “lean manufacturing” at a Toyota plant in Kentucky. At the hospital, he started by mapping out a patient’s journey from admission to release and all the junctures along the way.

“Before the staff mapped this process, the average stomachache visit took three hours,” according to the radio segment. “Today it takes two. That means Barnes can treat more patients, increase patient safety and cut down on its payroll.”

One notable aspect of the improvements at Barnes is that they haven’t involved the acquisition of fancy new gizmos. Peter Drucker, who, as we’ve pointed out on more than one occasion, was fascinated by the way that hospitals are organized, often emphasized how better ideas can be much more important than the latest hardware.

“What has changed manufacturing, and sharply pushed up productivity, are new concepts,” Drucker wrote in Managing in the Next Society. “Information and automation are less important than new theories of manufacturing, which are an advance comparable to the arrival of mass production 80 years ago. Indeed, some of these theories, such as Toyota’s ‘lean manufacturing,’ do away with robots, computers and automation. One highly publicized example involves replacing one of Toyota’s automated and computerized paint-drying lines by half a dozen hairdryers bought in a supermarket.”

The progress at Barnes hasn’t come easily. “Marketplace” pointed out that such streamlining “takes a tremendous amount of work to do properly and the process never ends.”

But Drucker would have considered the effort extremely worthwhile. That’s because he understood “malfunction in information” can be a “major time-waster,” citing the example of a hospital saving thousands of telephone calls by simply alerting more staffers automatically to the latest count of available beds. “Time-wasting management defects such as overstaffing, malorganization, or malfunctions in information can sometimes be remedied fast,” Drucker wrote in The Effective Executive. “At other times, it takes long, patient work to correct them. The results of such work are, however, great—and especially in terms of time gained.”

What about in your organization? What are you doing to correct “time-wasting management defects”? [/EXPAND]