Understanding setup time in the manufacturing world is easy: A machine makes products with different specifications, and parts must be changed to meet those. The time you take to make those changes is setup time. The more setup time, the more wasted time and resources. Lean companies focus on reducing changeover times to make a range of products in a given period of time to meet customer demand.
How this applies to health-care is occasionally tough, so let’s start with the easiest example. In an operating room, the time needed to turn it over for the next surgery would be setup time. The quicker you clean, disinfect and stock the room with the relevant tools, the more surgeries can be done in a day.
Setup time and its opportunities for greater efficiencies go far beyond an operating room, though. Take a blood draw for testing. Supplies are situated outside patient rooms for safety reasons and, once ordered, require a nurse to walk to a storage area. Then, depending on how a supply closet is organized, the nurse may need to spend time looking for the correct, unexpired tools before placing them on a tray and walking back into the patient room to do the draw – provided he or she hasn’t forgotten anything. Drawing the blood takes no more than a few minutes, but the time spent in preparation can create a great deal of waste, reducing the time a health-care provider can spend with patients. At its worse, these inefficiencies can result in delays in diagnosis and treatment, affecting the length of stay and patient satisfaction.
Just think of how much could be changed by just placing a phlebotomy cart right outside the patient room or spending some much-needed 5S time on the supply closet.
That’s not the only waste-prone procedure in this setting. Just think about turning over patient rooms, adjusting diagnostic equipment or starting a new round of chemotherapy. Any sort of walking, waiting or looking around is waste and if a highly paid staff is spending a major chunk of its day doing it, those are resources down the drain.
Many employees aren’t even aware of the wastes that run rampant in settings like these. Instead, they consider it part of their work because that’s what they’re used to doing. All it takes is for someone to take a look at the process and separate truly value-adding activities from the waste.