An urgent need in American health care is improving quality and efficiency while controlling costs. One promising management approach implemented by some leading health care institutions is Lean, a quality improvement philosophy and set of principles originated by the Toyota Motor Company. Health care cases reveal that Lean is as applicable in complex knowledge work as it is in assembly-line manufacturing. When well executed, Lean transforms how an organization works and creates an insatiable quest for improvement. In this article, we define Lean and present 6 principles that constitute the essential dynamic of Lean management: attitude of continuous improvement, value creation, unity of purpose, respect for front-line workers, visual tracking, and flexible regimentation. Health care case studies illustrate each principle. The goal of this article is to provide a template for health care leaders to use in considering the implementation of the Lean management system or in assessing the current state of implementation in their organizations. © 2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
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