Six-Sigma and Lean Approach to Nursing and Healthcare

Dear Nurse Michele . . .

Dear Michele:
I am hearing and reading more and more about six-sigma and lean management techniques for hospitals. Can you explain to me what these are about? As a nurse, do I really need to know about them? Why are they such a hot topic now?

Hospital are dealing with some very tough economic issues today. Rising drug costs and material costs are reducing profit margins.  Hospitals are being forced to slash medical procedure costs to compete for the reduced number of patients with commercial insurance.  While profits are being eroded due to lack of revenue, there exists an opportunity to restore and maintain the proper margins through (1) the use of increased cost management techniques and (2) an increase in productivity. Two of the most popular techniques to do this are (1) Six-Sigma and (2) Lean.

1. The Six Sigma Approach (reducing the problems) is designed to reduce costs and increase patient satisfaction through statistical analysis and a reduction of the problems in the system.   An example of this would be to compare OR times required for various procedures.  A look at the variance between surgery time among surgeons can identify areas of cost savings.  Surgeons can be made aware of these variances and wasteful practices and irregularities can be reduced.

2. The Lean Approach (reducing the waste) attempts to maximize patient value and improve the patient’s experience while reducing waste.  Waste can be manifested in many forms: time wasted through non value-added tasks; cost related to wasted materials; superfluous resources not adding value to the patient’s experience.

Please let me know how you and your hospital is using six-sigma and lean management techniques. I hope to write more about these applications.

Show me you're alive!!! Comment below and let me know what you think.


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About Michele G. Kunz

I am a nursing educator and AHA Certified Instructor and I specialize in providing AHA Certification classes in ACLS, BLS, and PALS to healthcare professionals and students. I am also a certified six-sigma green belt (CSSGB).
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2 Responses to Six-Sigma and Lean Approach to Nursing and Healthcare

  1. Jennifer Folley says:

    As a nurse with prior skills as an industrial engineer, it is agonizing to see how things are ran in the nursing home setting. There is way too much time and resource waste, disorganization of materials in order for tasks to be done, nepotism and cliques that hinders productive changes within the facility whereas sound suggestions such as 5S, shared responsibility or shifts sign off sheets gets brushed off as I am told that “it will make enemies to interfere with the usual way by making others responsible for how they leave the workplace for an oncoming shift.” Tasks from other departments falls upon the floor nurses which results on overtime, but we are threatened about getting written up for being in overtime. I thought about writing corporate regarding this issue. Advice please…

    • Michele G. Kunz says:

      Hi Jennifer, it is difficult to work in a setting that is not organized, but there are things you can do to improve your working environment. You can get your manager to get a team, with you as a co-leader to develop a LEAN project. Meet with the departments to see how the daily tasks are done and then see how to improve. Yes, you need administration support at times. But if you can make changes and prove you can save money, team work always improves comradery and patient care. Good luck.

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