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Looking to Toyota for Guidance: A Rural Hospital Uses Industrial Time Management Techniques to Address its ER Woes
Topic Managing Service and Manufacturing Operations
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Key Words

operations management, time management, technology, data management, lean manufacturing, production, strategy

News Story

The snail-pace hospital system. It’s been well-documented and spoofed in TV shows and movies—the long waits, the paperwork, the misplaced charts, the harried staff. Those fictional depictions could have described the ER of a rural Georgia hospital, that is, until its recent technological and organizational revamp.

The Meadows Regional Medical Center was having widespread efficiency problems, particularly in its 13-bed ER department, where 27,000 patients were treated in 2007, a number expected to keep rising. The problems were endless—crowded wards, lack of space, long waits, inefficient paper records, slow tracking, cumbersome monitoring.

The CEO approached Georgia Tech, which offered free advice based on lean manufacturing procedures first used by Toyota. About 44 action items were identified to eliminate unneeded tasks, save time, and streamline work.  A new information system specifically designed for ER procedures was implemented. T-system applications were installed to allow staff to create, update, and monitor electronic records based on predefined templates. Monitors at nurse stations were added to track patient progress, physician orders, and staffing levels.       

The results? A number of standard operations have been improved—moving people in and out, keeping records, monitoring outpatient progress, even tracking physician availability. Annual department revenue has increased 35 percent. And an old stereotype has been busted—a few years ago patients spent an average of 247 minutes in the ER, higher than the national average; that’s been whittled down to less than half the time, at 122 minutes.

  1. What is lean manufacturing, as practiced by Toyota?       
  1. Compare the inner workings of an emergency department to the operations procedures of an auto manufacturer. What common elements might be streamlined in both cases?  
  1. What is operations management, and what aspects came into play during the revamp of the ER at Meadows Regional. 
  1. How did technological advances play a key role for this hospital in its transition from crippling inefficiency to streamlined efficiency?   

“Looking to Toyota for guidance: a rural hospital uses industrial time management techniques to address its ER woes.” Health Data Management, Dec 1, 2008 v16 i12 p52. 

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