Lean thinking may have been born in Toyota in the 1950s and 1960s, but it wasn’t until after the year 2000 that a few hospitals began to explore its application to the healthcare industry (lean healthcare). These pioneering organizations came together to share their stories at the first Global Lean Healthcare Summit in the UK in 2007, which in turn triggered many more experiments around the world. Since then, interest has kept growing.
Some fifteen years on, we have hundreds of examples to learn from, from clinics and departments through to entire hospitals and even whole hospital systems. Not all early experiments succeeded, and we are still a long way from making lean a widely recognized way of working across the industry.
Healthcare providers around the world still face huge challenges, as ageing populations and unhealthy lifestyles boost the demand for healthcare faster than the growth of incomes and tax revenues from the middle classes. At the same time, the quality of care has not improved as much as the quality of other services in the economy, which is why more and more healthcare organizations are turning to lean.
Historically, lean healthcare ideas have been applied in large hospitals, but in the past few years we have started to see the philosophy adopted in earnest in many smaller organizations following a do-it-yourself approach that has generated many positive benefits. An impressive example is the Consorci Sanitari del Garraf near Barcelona.