Lean healthcare: A guide for hospital IT directors

Hospital IT directors face a set of challenges that are unique in the healthcare industry. You're working to keep patient information secure, nail down IT processes and provide the best equipment and service to bolster patient care – all while reacting to daily IT issues that arise.

If you're looking for a way to streamline your processes, improve operations and ultimately provide your patients with better care, it's time to consider the advantages of Lean healthcare.

In this hospital IT director's guide to Lean healthcare, we'll discuss what Lean healthcare is and how it enables these benefits.

Improving Your Operations Through Lean Healthcare
Lean healthcare relies heavily on philosophy, methodology and process, with some improved or optimized tools. In other words, you don't have to overhaul your entire IT infrastructure. You just have to start using the tools you already have in the most efficient way possible to maximize their effectiveness. This approach is not centered on you, your nurses, your doctors or your staff members working harder. It's focused on how all of you can work smarter.

Every workplace has areas of wasted or duplicated effort and time. The key to running an efficient operation is eliminating that waste. For example, Lean hospitals will use value-stream mapping to outline the daily tasks or projects from a hospital staff member or group. As all functions are mapped out within that task or project, waste is identified as a piece that doesn't directly contribute to delivering patient value or provide the best experience possible. The goal then is to eliminate that waste in the process.

Benefits For Hospital IT Directors
As your hospital's IT director, you're constantly seeking ways to improve processes, operations and patient care. Lean healthcare enables you to reach those goals. Some of the benefits of Lean healthcare for hospital IT directors include:

• IMPROVED PROCESSES – For hospital IT directors, processes are everything. You need a streamlined, waste-free, solutions-based process for solving problems in your workplace. Lean healthcare helps you formulate that structure.

• PROACTIVE SOLUTIONS – Not only does Lean healthcare enable you to ensure process-based solutions, but it also empowers you to identify proactive solutions for your staff needs. Stop putting out fires and start proactively anticipating what challenges you're likely to face.

• GREATER EFFICIENCY – When you're working smarter instead of harder, you'll find that you have more time on your hands to perform your job. Distancing yourself from reactive IT methods and proactively solving problems frees up more time to play a leadership role in your organization.

Implementing Lean Healthcare In Your Hospital
Adopting a Lean approach is about more than just understanding the philosophy. As an IT director, you have to put the right implementation methods in place. Use the following tips to build a solid foundation for successfully integrating Lean healthcare at your hospital.

• ENSURE OPEN COMMUNICATION. One of the most powerful aspects of Lean hospitals is open communication. Lead the implementation of Lean healthcare by bringing staff members together to find operational improvement. This roundtable discussion of how to reduce waste – waste of energy, time, money, etc. – comprises representatives of all hospital staff and interested parties, including hospital IT, nurses, pharmaceutical staff and more. It might be the first time a representative of the nurses has discussed these issues with someone from billing or the pharmaceutical staff. As the IT director, you must work to establish a foundation of open communication, allowing parties to address any challenges the hospital is facing. Then, use these different perspectives to find smart, efficient solutions.

• ELICIT BUY-IN FROM THE TOP DOWN. If a change is implemented in a company but the head of the organization doesn't buy into the new process, that change is unlikely to have lasting success. The same holds true for Lean hospitals. One of the keys to a successful implementation of Lean principles is gaining acceptance from the top down. Solicit help from your hospital's most senior parties to communicate the importance of adopting Lean healthcare. They should consider running a small, internal public relations campaign of sorts, communicating to everyone that your organization is taking Lean healthcare seriously.

• VIEW IT AS A WAY OF LIFE. Lean healthcare used to be viewed as a passing fad. Over the course of the last few years, however, it's become more than the next "flavor of the month" for hospital IT solutions. It's a way of life for many hospitals – not just a temporary fix for some of the challenges your hospital faces, but rather a long-term solution that should be part of your hospital's DNA. Treat your shift to Lean healthcare as a cultural change in your hospital if you're looking for the rest of your staff to follow suit.

As a hospital IT director, you have a responsibility to ensure a streamlined, proactive approach to healthcare IT. Take the steps to properly implement Lean healthcare, and you'll reap the long-term benefits of working in an efficient hospital where patients come first.

Jim Green has over 20 years of experience in developing, managing, and implementing IT projects and solutions in healthcare, publishing, and insurance industries. Jim is currently serving hospitals and clinics in a CIO role, specializing in EHR optimization, process improvement, IT planning, and leading IT teams.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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