Just in the past decade, Seattle has become a mecca for healthcare transformation.
That's because it's home to the Virginia Mason Health System, which has pioneered the application of manufacturing efficiencies to healthcare.
As many in healthcare know, in 2002, executives from Virginia Mason began learning about the Toyota Production System and Lean manufacturing principles.
A trip to Japan and evaluation of their application from another local employer, Boeing, resulted in Virginia Mason becoming the first health system in the nation to adopt these practices.
Since that time, hundreds of executives and employees from hospitals around the country and the world have traveled to Seattle to learn the Virginia Mason way. Demand for site tours and training became so great that in 2008, the hospital system formed a new not-for-profit subsidiary called the Virginia Mason Institute. Today, the institute is a center for learning on healthcare transformation.
“This is an investment in our long-term strategy,” says Diane Miller, executive director of the Virginia Mason Institute.
To date, the institute has taught leaders from more than 100 healthcare organizations tools to improve quality and efficiency, and Virginia Mason employees have taken a total of 11 trips to Japan to study the methods.
One of the most famous examples of applying Toyota's system to hospitals involves reorganizing workflow to reduce the number of steps caregivers must take to do their jobs.
But there are many other ways that the Virginia Mason Institute is improving efficiencies and patient safety. These include “mistake proofing” to eliminate errors and defects, implementing patient-safety alert systems to immediately report errors and halt all activity that could cause further harm, and conducting product reviews to save time and money.
Virginia Mason is being recognized for its results. In 2010, it was just one of two hospitals nationwide to be named Top Hospital of the Decade by the Leapfrog Group for patient safety.
The Virginia Mason Institute regularly conducts executive team visits. Attendance by the hospital or system's CEO is mandatory, and the number in the executive's entourage is typically kept to only eight people. The guest system's needs drive the agenda.
“What's most important is that the visit helps them make the determination whether they are ready or not to go down this road,” Miller says. “They learn what kind of commitment it takes.”
And the institute is beginning to help other industries apply these methods, such as companies working in the healthcare supply chain and in architecture and construction.
The Virginia Mason Institute has a revenue target of $3.5 million annually, Miller says, and those earnings are reinvested into the institute.
Today, many clients of the Virginia Mason Institute are clamoring for ways to reduce hospital readmission rates and so-called never events, because the CMS and private payers will no longer reimburse for these associated costs, Miller says.
The institute teaches care transition improvements, such as communicating with outpatient facilities, nursing homes and family members to ensure a smooth transition out of the hospital and thus reduce readmission rates.
“Whatever the focus or priorities, we have the methods,” she says. “The key notion is the right people are collaborating to deliver superior care.”