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Lean: Exceeding investment at Mercy-North Iowa

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Mercy Medical Center - North Iowa's Emergency Department implemented Kanban techniques to help manage and reduce inventory. Mary Trent, RN shows where supplies and equipment are now located in a supply cabinet and cart in the patient room allowing the medical team to spend more time at the patient's bedside and increasing efficiencies within the department.

MASON CITY -- The Lean principles initiative started in 2007 at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa has already improved workplace efficiency, saved money and, most important, improved service to patients, Mercy officials said.

"It's far exceeding the investment that we've made," Mercy President/CEO Jim FitzPatrick said.

His remarks came during a two-day site visit hosted March 24 and 25 by Mercy officials for representatives of 18 hospitals and healthcare systems from around the nation, all of whom have committed to using Lean principles in the healthcare environment, said Dr. John Toussaint, president/CEO of ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value in Appleton, Wis.

Toussaint is author of "On the Mend: Revolutionizing Healthcare to Save Lives and Transform the Industry," which talks about the application of Lean principles to the healthcare industry.

He said the group had toured Mercy's emergency department, laboratory, cardiac rehabilitation unit and nutrition services.

"We saw a lot of examples of Lean principles, reducing the time it takes to get a blood test for a heart attack patient in the emergency room, improving how quickly you get your food, taking out wasted time to enable nurses to spend more time with patients - things like that," he said.

Mercy-North Iowa is "definitely on the edge of this healthcare movement," Toussaint said.

"They're committed and they're doing really well with it."

At Mercy, frontline staff have been empowered to help identify ways to deliver services more efficiently, said Michael Johnston, Mercy vice president of network development.

"Our biggest focus was, how do we make patient care better," Johnston said.

The Lean principles culture is oriented around identifying and eliminating non-value-added activities, he said. It gives organizations more accountability and more responsibility.

Cost savings are a part of the outcome, although it isn't the focus, Johnston said.

"We don't talk about money. But there are financial rewards," he said.

FitzPatrick said hospital officials are learning to make smarter use of the resources.

"We're really doing grassroots healthcare reform here," FitzPatrick said. "It's doing the right things for the patients. It's very important that we get this right."


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