How lean thinking and Six Sigma can be used to improve health care quality

How lean thinking and Six Sigma can be used to improve health care quality

The high cost of health care has been associated with several factors. Among them is the rapid growth of technology, an increase in the aging population and operational inefficiencies. Operational inefficiencies have played a dominant role in the disparities witnessed in health care systems.

Lean thinking was developed by James Womack and Dan Jones. It seeks to improve the organization of human activities to produce more value and benefits to the consumers and eliminate waste. Six Sigma was founded by American Engineer Bill Smith; its core goal is to use techniques and tools to improve processes. Lean thinking and Six Sigma can be used to improve efficiency in healthcare. Lean Six Sigma is an approach that combines both lean thinking and Six Sigma in business operations. It has been used before in a Red Cross Hospital in the Netherlands. The approach greatly helped improve services in the institution.

Six Sigma projects follow proper methodologies. They follow a certain procedure in problem-solving which includes defining the problem and analyzing it before integrating control measures to improve the situation.  Health care practitioners can borrow this concept. They can conduct a proper diagnosis before prescribing medication. Also, Six Sigma uses evidence-based research. It offers no room for guesswork and assumptions. Medical practitioners can use it to improve the provision of healthcare.

Lean thinking seeks to eliminate waste and add value. It can be used to reduce the cost and duration of medication. The Red Cross Hospital based in the Netherlands used lean thinking to cut the cost of provision of health care by eliminating anything that was not necessary. In the US, the health care system is faced with fraud challenges. Healthcare professionals sometimes order duplicate medication or extra drugs from Medicare to sell to the black market. Lean thinking would help eliminate the wastage of healthcare resources. It is based on five principles which include value, value streams, flow, pull and perfection.  Health care systems can embrace these principles in their operations. Value entails the provision of valuable medication that will improve the health of patients. Value streams, flow and pull will necessitate the elimination of any wastes that are not adding value to the health care process, and perfection entails the provision of care that is perfect. This is done by addressing the root cause of major problems, problem-solving and making improvements in health care institutions.


De Koning, Henk, et al. “Lean six sigma in healthcare.” Journal for Healthcare Quality 28.2 (2006): 4-11.

Proudlove, Nathan, Claire Moxham, and Ruth Boaden. “Lessons for lean in healthcare from using six sigma in the NHS.” Public Money and Management 28.1 (2008): 27-34.

Niemeijer, Gerard C., et al. “Quality in trauma care: improving the discharge procedure of patients using Lean Six Sigma.” Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 69.3 (2010): 614-619.

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