Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Factory Efficiency Comes to the Hospital - NYTimes.com

Two years ago, the supply system atSeattle Children's Hospital was so unreliable that Susanne Matthews, a nurse in the intensive care unit, would stockpile stuff — catheters in the closet, surgical dressings in patients' dresser drawers and clamps in the nurse's office. And she wasn't the only one.

"Nurses get very anxious when we can't get our hands on the tools we need for our patients," Ms. Matthews says, "so we grabbed them when we saw them, and stashed them away." This, in turn, made the shortages more acute.

On a busy day last month in the I.C.U., it took Ms. Matthews just a few seconds to find the specialized tubing she needed to deliver medicine to an infant recovering from heart surgery. The tubing was nearby, in a fully stocked rack, thanks to a new supply system instituted by the hospital early last year following practices typically used in manufacturing or retailing, not health care.

There are two bins of each item; when one bin is empty, the second is pulled forward. Empty bins go to the central supply office and the bar codes are scanned to generate a new order. The hospital storeroom is now half its original size, and fewer supplies are discarded for exceeding their expiration dates.

The system is just one example of how Seattle Children's Hospital says it has improved patient care, and its bottom line, by using practices made famous by Toyota and others. The main goals of the approach, known as kaizen, are to reduce waste and to increase value for customers through continuous small improvements.

Manufacturers, particularly in the auto and aerospace industries, have been using these methods for many years. And while a sick child isn't a Camry, Seattle Children's Hospital has found that checklists, standardization and nonstop brainstorming with front-line staff and customers can pay off.

"It turns out the highest-quality care also is the most cost-effective because we make fewer mistakes and create better outcomes," says Patrick Hagan, the hospital's president.

The program, called "continuous performance improvement," or C.P.I., examines every aspect of patients' stays at the hospital, from the time they arrive in the parking lot until they are discharged, to see what could work better for them and their families.

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