Petersburg Medical Center staff, from a variety of departments, received training last Thursday that aims to change the way staff solves problems to improve service quality.
Called Lean training, aspects of the method have been around since the early 1900s but it was popularized and made famous by the Toyota Motor Company. It isn’t as much a how-to guide as it is a continual problem solving process unique to the respective organization that implements it. Lean principles have been successfully transitioned into health care.
Anners Wennerstrom, Director of Operational Excellence at Providence Health & Services Alaska, was one of two experts who conducted the training session. He said today’s healthcare environment warrants adaptation.
“There’s so many different things that are tugging at us in healthcare today it’s a little bit hard to focus, frankly,” Wennerstrom said. “We’ve got new reimbursement models, changing demographics and changing regulatory requirements, we get pulled in a lot of different directions.”
Ultimately, he pointed out, the patient is always the sole consideration when it comes to solving a problem and running an effective hospital.
“What are the steps that we take to take care of this person and add value?” Wennerstrom asked. “What’s our process step by step? And then we study those steps to identify; where do we add value, where do we not. Can we remove the work that doesn’t add value?”
Lean encourages high-level managers to relinquish some control to lower echelon employees—those who Wennerstrom said are closer to an issue and therefore more apt to solve it. This means getting everyone involved meaning an employee in physical therapy needs to be willing and able to assist with a problem in the emergency room.
And that’s the case at PMC. One of the specific issues dealt with during the training session was how to better recoup losses from wasted supplies. Items such as sutures, gauze pads, and other dressings aren’t always tracked and included in billing.
Physical Therapist Kaitlin Duross said the training encouraged her to think about the hospital as a collective unit rather than split up into individual departments.
“I didn’t think I would have to be involved in figuring out a problem in the ER,” Duross said.
But she’s looking forward to working with all the staff and implementing new strategies.
“It’s going to be fun,” Duross said. “We’re going to learn a lot and problem solve a lot and argue about some things but ultimately it’s going to better the hospital and that’s what we want.”
Representatives from multiple departments attended the session and grant funding from Alaska State Hospital Nursing Home Association paid for the training.