Lean Principles in Healthcare


Utilizing the Toyota Way to Achieve Healthcare Excellence

Joe Acord

University of Phoenix

The Concept of Lean

As the concept of Lean isn’t new to business, healthcare has adopted many of its principles to strengthen its workforce and maintain sustainability. Lean is defined as an “improvement approach that consists in eliminating waste (steps that do not add value to the customer/patient, e.g. interruptions, delays, mistakes…) to improve the flow of patients, information or goods” (Luciano, 2009). While Boeing Corporation was an early adaptor of Lean, Toyota Motor Company is credited with being the inventor of the Lean concept, otherwise known as the Toyota Production System.

Incorporating the Lean Concept to Healthcare

While lean concepts were originally designed for car production improvements, many aspects have been adopted to healthcare delivery. The reduction of unnecessary waste, a hallmark of the lean concept, is transitioned to healthcare in several ways. “Lean principles guide managers to reduce wait times for patients, reduce steps taken by health care workers, and reduce inventory and supplies” (Stefl, 2009). Reducing steps in a production line setting minimizes wasted time and effort and in healthcare this can also be achieved. Bringing care to the patient not only reduces the steps a patient has to take but also minimizes the effort that staff must make to efficiently provide care to the patient.
Sterile processing technicians are healthcare workers whose primary focus is to meet the needs of the surgery department. Historically, sterile processing has been associated with the need for more space, resources and time. By minimizing idle time and the overproduction of products that aren’t truly needed by the patient, “lean transformation focuses on the improvement of value-added process steps for better performance, quality, and reduced cost” (Jelks, 2017).


Healthcare facilities have adopted lean thinking throughout their organizations as a way of minimizing waste and reducing the number of steps that patients and caregivers must take in order to provide quality care. Although lean healthcare hasn’t progressed to the level it has in corporations like Toyota, interest in the application of lean thinking continues to grow. Through a review of literature it’s apparent that considerable research has been conducted and lean principles in healthcare have taken off in recent years. “Over 90 publications were found in ten countries from 2002 onward referring to the use of lean in healthcare. A yearly growth in the number of publications was observed, which points to an increasing presence of lean healthcare worldwide” (Luciano, 2009).


Jelks, M. L. (2017, December 1). An overview of lean transformation in sterile processing: Toyota
manufacturing processes in healthcare. Healthcare Purchasing News, 41(12).

Luciano Brandao, d. S. (2009). Trends and approaches in lean healthcare. Leadership in Health
Services, 22(2), 121-139. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17511870910953788

Stefl, M. E., PhD. (2009). The toyota way to healthcare excellence: Increase efficiency and improve
quality with lean: The journal of health care organization, provision, and
financing. Inquiry, 46(1), 109-110. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-

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