Reducing waste and errors: piloting lean principles at Intermountain Healthcare

Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2005 May;31(5):249-57. doi: 10.1016/s1553-7250(05)31032-4.


Background: The Toyota Production System (TPS), based on industrial engineering principles and operational innovations, is used to achieve waste reduction and efficiency while increasing product quality. Several key tools and principles, adapted to health care, have proved effective in improving hospital operations.

Tools: Value Stream Maps (VSMs), which represent the key people, material, and information flows required to deliver a product or service, distinguish between value-adding and non-value-adding steps. The one-page Problem-Solving A3 Report guides staff through a rigorous and systematic problem-solving process. PILOT PROJECT at INTERMOUNTAIN HEALTHCARE: In a pilot project, participants made many improvements, ranging from simple changes implemented immediately (for example, heart monitor paper not available when a patient presented with a dysrythmia) to larger projects involving patient or information flow issues across multiple departments. Most of the improvements required little or no investment and reduced significant amounts of wasted time for front-line workers. In one unit, turnaround time for pathologist reports from an anatomical pathology lab was reduced from five to two days.

Conclusions: TPS principles and tools are applicable to an endless variety of processes and work settings in health care and can be used to address critical challenges such as medical errors, escalating costs, and staffing shortages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cost Control
  • Diffusion of Innovation*
  • Efficiency, Organizational*
  • Hospitals, Community / economics
  • Hospitals, Community / organization & administration*
  • Montana
  • Pilot Projects