Lean 5S in Outpatient Medical Practice

Use the 5S methodology to reduce waste

Written by Owen Dahl Aug 15, 2018

How clean is your desk? Your work area? Those items that are in your work area, are they necessary to have where they are or are they in the way? When you enter an exam room, is everything in its place and are all exam rooms stocked in exactly the same way?

These types of questions may seem trivial, but they are not. Consider the amount of time your team wastes looking for items that are out of place, which detracts from the time they have to spend with patients. When accumulated throughout the day, this wasted time contributes to longer wait times for patients, which leads to reduced patient satisfaction scores.

There is a simple solution: the 5S methodology!

Sort: Determine the essential and non-essential items. Eliminate the non-essentials.
Set in order: Store the essential items in the right place.
Shine: Keep the area clean.
Standardize: Establish direction to make the first three steps a habit.
Sustain: Create a system to ensure the success of the methodology over time.

Some add a sixth S for Safety. This step could be incorporated with Sort as you would redesign your workspace to reduce the number of unsafe incidents that occur.

To get started, first try implementing the 5S methodology at your own private work space. Is the surface clean? Are the necessary items in drawers, shelves, or baskets that are easily accessible?  To do this in a shared space, such as the nurses’ station or exam room, you need to all team members to be in agreement. Convene a meeting or two to review the methodology and reach a consensus. Be prepared that individuals may have different views on how items should be organized. These discussions may not be easy, but once everyone gets the hang of the steps, they will see the benefits.

The 5S methodology may seem overly simple, but it can and will save time and resources, which will lead to improved patient care and patient satisfaction.

To understand what a positive impact the 5S methodology can have on your practice, track for a few days the number of times you either looked for something or handled an item more than once. The accumulation of this wasted time and energy is measurable and can be shocking once identified. Use this measurement as a benchmark, and over time you will realize how the 5S methodology helps you see more patients or get out of the office on time.

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