Organize the Health-Care Workplace with a Lean 6S Program

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In a typical day, health-care workers deal with a stream of stressful and urgent situations. They regularly retrieve medicines, materials and supplies from storage rooms — rooms that can get disorganized quickly. Searching for improperly stored items wastes time and tries patience. Disordered spaces create safety issues. Haphazard supply ordering can result in too much inventory or not enough.

“Lean” refers to a business methodology that promotes continuous improvement in work practices and focusing on what adds value from the customer’s point of view. A Lean approach seeks to eliminate waste and reduce stress and frustration for workers — improvements that in turn benefit the customer experience.

The “Lean 6S” program was originally created to make factories more organized, efficient and safer. It has evolved to have broader applications and can be implemented to improve housekeeping practices in health care workplaces where waste and inefficiency can be a problem.

When implemented, the Lean 6S step program results in benefits such as less stress for employees, fewer injuries and accidents, higher levels of productivity, and overall efficiency of time and effort. Here is a brief synopsis of the six steps required to transform an unorganized storage room into a model of efficiency:

  1. Sort: Clear and Classify. Get rid of what is not used. Tag items that need maintenance.
  2. Straighten: Organize all remaining items, use ergonomic principles to locate items to minimize reaching and movement. Cleary identify items and ensure they have a “home”. Create a visual workplace. Identify the amount of inventory needed.
  3. Shine: Clean and inspect the area, sweep floors. Wipe down shelves and containers.
  4. Standardize: Use color coding to label different categories of items and their locations. Create an orderly method of search and retrieval of items.
  5. Sustain: Use self discipline, custom and practice. Take steps to make sure the new process is followed and improved over time.
  6. Safety: ensure safety regulations are followed and first aid kits are easily accessible.

For more details, click to download this PDF showing the 6S process.

This material has been drawn from Schulich Exec Ed’s upcoming program Masters Certificate in Healthcare Management (starting March 8, 2019). The program is designed to help workers in the health care sector meet the challenges to deliver better care and lead people more effectively.

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