The 5 "S's" to Creating an Efficient Hospital Environment

Under pressure to reduce costs and improve quality, many hospitals and health systems are adopting approaches to improve processes. Some strategies, such as Lean and Six Sigma, aim to streamline processes by eliminating waste in the system. Improving the efficiency of processes also depends on eliminating waste in the environment in which the processes occur. Ron Keith, a healthcare consultant at TechSolve, explains how the 5S system provides a framework for improving efficiency in the hospital environment.

1. Sort. In this step, hospitals sort through unnecessary items that are no longer being used and identify expired or outdated items. For example, hospitals can eliminate physician preference items for a surgeon who is no longer practicing at the hospital, which can clear space in the supply area.

2. Straighten. In this step, hospitals organize what they have using basic visual management such as labeling, signs, pictures and designated areas for specific equipment. Organizing materials can help hospitals "reduce inventory, establish par levels for future purchasing, designate areas for storage and create standards related to how care and treatment are provided (i.e., the number and type of instruments being utilized)," Mr. Keith says. For example, a hospital may post pictures of specific instruments on different bins in the supply area to help staff quickly retrieve needed items.

3. Shine. The "Shine" step exposes conditions that may jeopardize the hospital's overall quality. Hospitals clean all areas and identify and address any gaps in cleaning standards. In addition to sterilizing spaces, such as the operating room, hospitals should also ensure the work environment is pleasant, according to Mr. Keith, by assessing the lighting, dust level and odors in the building. This step creates a safe environment and can improve the patient experience.

4. Standardize.
In the "Standardize" step, hospitals develop standard protocols for maintaining and monitoring the first three S's — sort, straighten and shine. These protocols should identify the actions needed to accomplish these steps, the people responsible for these actions and when the actions should be performed. For example, the hospital should establish standard practices for cleaning the environment consistently. Mr. Keith suggests using checklists to ensure protocols are followed.

While certain people may lead the 5S initiative, employees at all levels of the organization should play a role, Mr. Keith says. "The 5S approach is a great way to get everyone involved in creating an environment of success and performance excellence. If not yet embraced, start today by involving all levels of staff to ensure that true 5S deployment is occurring across the department."

5. Sustain. In the "Sustain" step, hospitals maintain an efficient work environment by continuing to focus on the four previous "S's." Sustaining an efficient environment is one of the greatest challenges in the 5S approach, Mr. Keith says. Incorporating the 5S approach in hospitals' overall strategies to meet short- and long-term goals can help hospitals maintain efficiency.

"By committing itself to the customer experience and utilizing an approach that deters and eliminates waste, a hospital is making the determination to set its organization on a path for continuous improvement and success. The customer that utilizes hospital services is ever-changing; in order to continually meet the expectations of the market, the customer experience must follow a path conducive [to] promoting positive results. The 5S approach is a simple way to promote service excellence in the eyes of the customer," Mr. Keith says.

More Articles on Hospital Efficiency:

4 Key Strategies to Improve Patient Flow in Hospitals
Using HIT to Improve ED Patient Flow, Performance: Q&A with Dr. Michael Westcott, CMIO of Alegent Health

Breaking Down Silos to Improve Patient Flow, Hospital Efficiency

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