A radically different model for Healthcare

Healthcare is THE topic of 2012 across the country as it few things touch people so viscerally. It is very hard to have a discussion, in fact, without battle lines being drawn around politics, personal or professional perspective. There is general agreement that something has to change but little agreement on what and how.

Going to the source

My article in the Harvard Business Review last week, The Healthcare Reform That Can’t Be Stopped, talked about the great digitization that is occurring and the Pandora’s Box this has opened in healthcare. I also made reference to the Toyota Production System being used to varying degrees by healthcare providers. Researching the article was very eye-opening and I decided I had to see for myself. I chose to visit ThedaCare, an Appleton, Wisconsin-based healthcare network.

ThedaCare applied the Toyota Production system to their practice of healthcare starting a decade ago. More than a methodology change, they have changed the culture of the organization so thoroughly that this  way of work is now in their DNA.  As Dr. John Toussaint of Thedacare put it, “The answer is in. It works. The trick is to know how to get it in.”

Getting it in

ThedaCare is completely organized around the soft skills that are the hardest part to instill in an organization: Creating a culture of respect for people. They do this through a simple image that expresses their core principles and aligns continuous improvement and metrics under each. Everywhere we went, from the lab and call center to their senior living residence, large boards are used to ensure people are aligned with the central goals of the organization.

What makes it truly remarkable is the executive suite that has an entire room dedicated to summarizing these principles and providing the roll up of effort across so many different work groups and departments. The focus, even at the top is clearly on ThedaCare’s front line workers and their ability to solve problems and improve performance. Toussaint asked an excellent question as the final day ended, “How can healthcare make people healthier if there isn’t a system that involves everyone and transparency in measuring performance?”

For more resources, see LeanROI, Dr. Ideas, and the Harvard Business Review.


Categories: Continuous Improvement, Disciplines, Healthcare, Markets

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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7 Comments on “A radically different model for Healthcare”

  1. April 23, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Great post – really like the way you go beyond theory and show an actual example where continuous improvement is being used in healthcare today. Very valuable to see not only that it can be done, but that it is being done.

  2. April 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    Thanks, Tom. It was remarkable.

  3. David
    April 28, 2012 at 6:59 am #

    I am a doctor and engineer.. I have done some LEAN training and I certainly think there is a use for this in many areas of healthcare, both direct and indirect such as supply chain. Here is the difference… in Toyota there is a convergent capacity to change… if the flows show too much waste in material, HR, poor supplier quality etc… there is ONE decision maker who can, if priorities prevail, get rid of the problem. IN healthcare depending on who is directing the study there is still the risk to avoid the issues if they seem to hot or aren’t what the politic wants to hear at the time. E.g. what if flow shows we should have more evening clinics or 24/7 supply of some scarce resource… would the admin/politic allow it. I think the other thing it does is shine a light, a light that would be embarrassing for those who historically have with puffed chests and little facts made bold statements about how their “system” is so effective and efficient ALREADY.
    Cynical maybe, or at least realistic. Keep the pressure on to do this stuff.


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