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The Waste Epidemic: How Do You Deal With It in Your Organization?

Virginia Mason Institute

“It works. It’s sustainable. It’s continuous.”

– Carolyn Corvi

Carolyn Corvi spent 34 years in manufacturing commercial aircraft at Boeing, where she served as vice president and general manager of airplane programs. It was a rich and varied experience that affords her a unique perspective on health care. Since 2002, Carolyn has served on the Virginia Mason board, and since 2009, she has served as chair. Here’s her perspective on the value of the Toyota Production System (TPS) outside manufacturing.

Q. At Boeing, you applied TPS to building the 737 line of planes. Does the approach work as well in health care as it does in manufacturing?

A. Absolutely. And I think at Virginia Mason we have demonstrated that over the past decade. Any organization where waste of resources — time, money, talent, etc. — is an issue can benefit enormously from the Toyota Production System. Any organization filled with waste — and health care organizations are particularly wasteful — presents an opportunity for improvement. The Toyota Production System is a method that’s been proven to allow an organization to focus on continually eliminating waste while improving quality. I don’t think there’s a debate anymore.

Q. So you think the Toyota approach is widely accepted now even in health care?

A. I’ve talked with so many people at provider organizations throughout the country who clearly see its value. Many have come here to Seattle to see firsthand the adaptation of TPS in health care — what we call the Virginia Mason Production System.TM Personally I have never had anybody show me a better method — not one that works on a sustainable, consistent basis and that has the underlying principle of engaging everyone in the organization. It works. It’s sustainable. It’s continuous.

Q. Yet there remains a reluctance among some health care organizations to adopt it. Why do you think that’s so?

A.  It is incremental, so it’s slower than maybe some, particularly in Western cultures, would like, but it absolutely provides a platform to engage everyone. I would encourage anyone who is seriously interested to come and visit us — to see firsthand the transformative impact of the method.

Q. Does the approach suit some types of organizations better than others?

A. Organizations with a culture of continuous learning have a leg up. That was one of the things that I noted that was really different between health care and the aerospace manufacturing industry. In health care, there is a spirit of continuous learning. People in health care are constantly engaged in more learning — attending conferences, presenting papers, studying with people who have made new discoveries in their field. Continuous learning is a fundamental part of implementing a lean management system. And in health care clearly that’s an opportunity that could be capitalized on by the CEO of any organization.

If you were to pull together a frontline team of caregivers, what 3 areas of waste in your processes would they identify first?

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