Here are 3 lessons to learn from automaker

Toyota focuses on common-sense solutions

Progressive health care managers are increasingly looking outside health care for cutting-edge ideas to improve quality and boost efficiency.

"It is important for us to look to other industries, because we haven’t been successful in reducing waste and errors with our status quo," says Cindy Jimmerson, RN, process improvement researcher at Community Medical Center, a 108-bed facility in Missoula, MT, and co-investigator in a research project funded by the Arlington, VA-based National Science Foundation on "Applying the Principles of the Toyota Production System to Healthcare."

Jimmerson says there is a lot that health care facilities can learn from the Tokyo-based Toyota Motor Corp.

The automaker has mastered reducing waste; giving the customer exactly what they want, when they want it; and eliminating defects, Jimmerson says. Here are three examples of Toyota principles that health care facilities can implement:

1. Make changes without the addition of staff or technology.

Jimmerson says this kind of change is made from the "bottom up," with workers considered the experts. "This is not someone from the top telling people what to do," she underscores.

The idea is to make changes as soon as possible after a roadblock is identified, she says. "You figure out why it occurred and what you will do about it," she says. "This is very different from reporting a problem to a supervisor, who takes it to a director, who takes it into a meeting. In other words, how do we fix this so that it doesn’t happen again, instead of just putting a [bandage] on a single event at hand."

2. Solve problems from the perspective of individual patients.

A key part of Toyota’s corporate culture is addressing problems from an individual customer’s point of view, says Jimmerson. For example, instead of addressing a general problem of "the lab never gets the work done on time," the Toyota method would address a specific scenario, such as, "Jones spent unnecessary time in the examination room because his lab results were delayed by 30 minutes."

She says that by fixing a problem for an individual patient, you wind up fixing that same problem for future patients.

Another key concept is to solve a problem by observing a process, instead of placing blame on individuals or departments, says Jimmerson.

"The idea is to look at how each person along the way can improve the process," she says. "Nobody has been personally attacked, and everybody takes some ownership in finding solutions."

3. Eliminate non-value-added activities.

Jimmerson underscores a key Toyota concept: To identify and eliminate non-value-added activities. All activity should move the patient along.

Jimmerson says the idea is to avoid work-arounds — temporary measures designed to help you work around a roadblock. "The goal is to find sources of frustration and get them out of the way," she says. "In this era of nursing shortage, we can’t afford to make people unhappy at work anymore, or to waste time doing anything that doesn’t add value to the patient."

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