It’s not uncommon to blame other departments or people for the inefficiencies in your own processes. While working on process improvement projects, I’ve heard it all: “It’s the doctors who are the problem,” “Finance just gets paid to make things difficult for us,” “It’s the emergency department’s fault.”

The sterile processing department at OhioHealth Corp. has tackled that culture by focusing inwardly. They’ve accepted the fact that they can’t control how surgeons or ORs function. What they care about is how they can modify and standardize their own processes to meet the variation in demand from the ORs.

Gary Butler

“Fisher Executive-In-Residence Gary Butler with the OhioHealth team.”

And have they.

“Five hours, that’s our turnaround time,” Nikki Ross, sterile processing’s systems director, announced proudly as I toured the process with my colleague Gary Butler. That’s the time from when the trays arrive at the decontamination area to when they are ready to be sent to the OR. The national average: 12 to 24 hours!  

So how did they do it? Ross focused on the elimination of waste, first pinpointing what exactly waste is and then going to gembato observe the process, empathizing and asking questions along the way. Armed with the knowledge and training of an OhioHealth process improvement specialist she was able to figure out not just the wastes in the process but also the value of just-in-time production and one-piece flow. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, it took Ross a few years to create a smooth and efficient process equipped with the ability to process faster with fewer errors.

Instruments

“OhioHealth’s processing rates in sterile supply are much faster than the national average.”

In health care, it’s common for some to say the processes in the system are too complex for a lean transformation, but surgical kits are no different than a car assembly line. OhioHealth has proven this. As I walked through Ross’ department, I noticed evidence of standard work, visuals for setting up trays, and very little inventory.  As a result, they are able to process the kits and track errors faster while continuing to improve.

Discuss: Any success stories at your organization?



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