Getting Lean in Medical Imaging


medical imaging, PACS, RIS, Many medical professionals have utilized lean manufacturing principles in their healthcare practices. Many more, in their desire to make their institutions more efficient, have unknowingly adopted the same principles.

According to an article in the Journal of American College of Radiology, it’s time for medical imaging professionals to think like lean manufacturers too.

The “lean” approach to manufacturing started in earnest with Toyota in the 1980’s. By focusing intently on both large-scale and small-scale inefficiencies, the company was able to significantly improve quality and reduce standing inventory without adding employees. Simple things (like the number of times a bolt was handled) and complex organizational patterns were altered so that machines and workers could operate at peak efficiency without being overworked. As Toyota’s bottom line drastically improved and as its superior cars put pressure on American auto makers, the rest of the manufacturing world began adopting its principles.

Some of the authors’ suggestions for applying lean techniques to medical imaging include:

  • Integrating speech recognition into PACS and RIS will reduce excess mouse clicking and image manipulation, which will in turn improve workflow efficiency.
  • Better process flows can reduce “down time” – i.e. unproductive waiting – for both patients and medical imaging workers.
  • Improved communication and medical imaging protocols can significantly reduce the number of unnecessary orders.
  • Accurately tracking scanning and processing times will help medical imaging professionals know when equipment and personnel are being overused and underused.
  • Improving transportation flows will decrease wasted time and the likelihood of damage to equipment and injuries to patients.

Some have criticized the use of lean manufacturing principles in medicine because the goal – healthier human beings – is categorically different from a manufactured product. But since lean techniques have, in fact, resulted in healthier human beings without an increase in costs (and often with a greater sense of productivity and job satisfaction among healthcare workers), it makes sense to explore them in every type of medical practice, including medical imaging.

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