This study explored the use of a Lean daily management system (DMS) for COVID-19 response and recovery in U.S. hospitals and health systems. Originally developed in manufacturing, Lean is an evidence-based approach to quality and process improvement in healthcare. Although Lean has been studied in individual hospital units and outpatient practices, it has not been examined as a whole system response to crisis events.
We conducted qualitative interviews with 46 executive leaders, clinical leaders, and frontline staff in four hospitals and health systems across the United States. We developed a semistructured interview guide to understand DMS implementation in these care delivery organizations. As interviews took place 6–8 months following the onset of the pandemic, a subset of our interview questions centered on DMS use to meet the demands of COVID-19. Based on a deductive approach to qualitative analysis, we identified clusters of themes that described how DMS facilitated rapid system response to the public health emergency.
There were many important ways in which U.S. hospitals and health systems leveraged their DMS to address COVID-19 challenges. These included the use of tiered huddles to facilitate rapid communication, the creation of standard work for redeployed staff, and structured problem-solving to prioritize new areas for improvement. We also discovered ways that the pandemic itself affected DMS implementation in all organizations. COVID-19 universally created greater DMS visibility by opening lines of communication among leadership, strengthening measurement and accountability, and empowering staff to develop solutions at the front lines. Many lessons learned using DMS for crisis management will carry forward into COVID-19 recovery efforts. Lessons include expanding telehealth, reactivating incident command systems as needed, and efficiently coordinating resources amid potential future shortages.
Overall, the Lean DMS functioned as a robust property that enabled quick organizational response to unpredictable events. Our findings on the use of DMS are consistent with organizational resilience that emphasizes collective sense-making and awareness of incident status, team decision-making, and frequent interaction and coordination. These features of resilience are supported by DMS practices such as tiered huddles for rapid information dissemination and alignment across organizational hierarchies. When used in conjunction with plan-do-study-act methodology, huddles provide teams with enhanced feedback that strengthens their ability to make changes as needed. Moreover, gaps between work-as-imagined (how work should be done) and work-as-done (how work is actually done) may be exacerbated in the initial chaos of emergency events but can be minimized through the development of standard work protocols. As a facilitator of resilience, the Lean DMS may be used in a variety of challenging situations to ensure high standards of care.