Marietta Daily Journal (GA)
September 17, 2012
Believe it or not, but a big key to improving healthcare can be found in copying some of the techniques used by successful manufacturers. That’s the path outlined by cardiologist and former WellStar Health System leader Gregory Simone during a recent visit to the Marietta Kiwanis Club.
He noted that shortly after taking over at WellStar, retired Lockheed Martin president Micky Blackwell asked him if he used lean thinking. “I said, ‘Well, I’m on a diet,’ but I really didn’t have any idea about what he was talking about.”
So Blackwell set up an opportunity for Simone to visit the C-130 manufacturing line at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, GA. “It was amazing. I had never seen anything like it. There is no hospital that was as clean and well-equipped as what I saw on that assembly line,” Simone recalled.
“Everything had a place, and it was marked on the floor so you can see if things are there or missing. They’ve got packages for each unit that move as the plane moves down the assembly line. And in the package, in order, were the tools that you need. And there’s a projection on the fuselage of where each bolt and piece went.
“It is efficient and reduced the time of production and reduced the errors that they had. It was incredible. I said, ‘Wow! If we could get our healthcare system to work like that, then we’re bringing something to the community.’”
Lean thinking was dreamed up by W. Edwards Deming in the 1950s. He argued that any manufacturing defect is not a problem with workers; it’s an issue with management. People in the United States scoffed, but manufacturers in Japan—especially at Toyota—took his idea and ran with it, Simone said. The two pillars of the new philosophy were continuous quality improvement and getting rid of waste.
“If you translate that to the medical field, every time you have a complication or an infection, that is rework. It’s unnecessary,” Simone said. “And if you do too much work that’s not producing anything of value, that’s waste. If we want to decrease the cost of healthcare, we don’t need to ration it; we need to get rid of waste. That’s the push of lean: Do only what people want to have and what they’re willing to pay for. That is what they value. Everything else is waste.”
So Simone hired experts from General Motors and elsewhere to try and adapt some of their procedures into the healthcare field. “They haven’t tooted their horn enough yet, but they’re starting to,” he said. “There are tools they use for quality, for flow, for productivity, for human development.”
Waste consumes 40% of every healthcare dollar in the United States, Simone said. The definition of lean is producing more goods and services with better quality while costing less to produce, he said. “So the genie’s out of the bottle. We must reform healthcare. We must transform healthcare. And every segment of society must do its part,” he added.
“We as individuals must do our part by taking care of our health and our lifestyle changes. We as individuals must oversee our government and our healthcare systems to make certain they’re going the right way for it. The ultimate solution lies in utilizing our existing American resources and organizational structures that we have in this country right now and drawing on American ingenuity to launch disruptive innovation and lean thinking.”
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