Clean your healthcare site to become more efficient

Spring cleaning is a tradition in many homes. The occupants open up the home to the spring air, thoroughly clean the home, and sort through the accumulated goods, getting rid of things not used for a long time and which no one wants anymore. It gives one a sense of accomplishment, makes for a more pleasant surrounding and frees up space.

Is this something that you do at your healthcare site on a regular basis?

Healthcare providers who do find that it has many benefits. Getting rid of unneeded supplies and hardware and tossing medical supplies whose useful life have expired frees up space, makes things better organized, and makes a safer environment. Following are examples of the benefits of “spring cleaning” at healthcare sites.

In some hospitals nursing staff in some departments will hoard supplies because they at times run out of items that they need and have to scrounge to find what they need. If supplies in the department are regularly put back in place, organized and inspected, then the supplies will be easy to find and up to date. If this organizing is coupled with an effective resupply process, then there will be no shortages and little hoarding.

Healthcare sites who regularly go through the process of “spring cleaning” will find that they have available quite a bit of room; it is not unusual for sites to free up 50% of their space. This space can be used in many ways. For instance, hospitals who were contemplating new construction find that with the freed up space that they don’t need to.

Primary care sites can use the extra space to offer new services that are patient-centered and which improve the income for the site. For instance, the newly freed up space can be used for group visits. Another idea is to use the space as an office for a mental health counselor or for a counselor trained to help with substance use disorders. With the arrival of mental health parity, employing mental health professionals is becoming more profitable for primary care sites.

The process of regularly cleaning and organizing a work site is one the tools of a Lean Healthcare System and is known as 5S: (1) Sort and Scrap, (2) Straighten, (3) Scrub, (4) Standardize and (5) Sustain. It is one of the eight processes in the foundation of Toyota’s House of Lean. Each has its own well defined steps and principles.

Sort. Designate a target area at the site. Set aside a staging area for gathering supplies that need to be sorted. First identify supplies that out of date or which have not been used for some time. If the last time of use is X (say a month or more), consider discarding the items or donating the goods to a nonprofit or charity if the team going through this 5S agrees.

Straighten. Determine the frequency of use of the remainder of the items. The more frequently used items should be placed in a storage area, drawers for instance, that are closer at hand. The storage areas should be labeled for the placement of each of the supplies that it holds. For instance, a supply closet for linens should have labels for the storage area of sheets.

Scrub. A regular schedule should be established to clean the work and storage areas. Surfaces should be cleaned and expired medications disposed. Make the area pleasing to the eye.

Standardize. Create a list of what should be cleaned and how often. Create a process to straighten up a work area, putting supplies back in their designated place. Set a schedule for this and set a rotating schedule of staff to be responsible for these steps.

Sustain. Educate staff on the benefits of the regular cleaning, sorting and organizing. Point out the initial successes after the first time through 5S. Leaders should regularly audit the target area to be sure that the 5S plan in being followed.

As one can see, 5S is a Lean Healthcare tool that all staff can use. It is well defined and has numerous benefits, including a work environment that is safer for both staff and patients. Even so, maintaining the 5S process at a healthcare site is not easy over the long term. Some staff will resist using this tool. Leaders should take the responsibility to see that staff follow the schedules and routines that they have set for themselves in the 5S process.

Donald Tex Bryant is a certified Lean Healthcare facilitator and manager of Bryant’s Healthcare Solutions, LLC.

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