Lean Performance Indicators and Facilitators of Outcomes in U.S. Public Hospitals : Journal of Healthcare Management

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Lean Performance Indicators and Facilitators of Outcomes in U.S. Public Hospitals

Roey, Tyler; Hung, Dorothy Y. PhD; Rundall, Thomas G. PhD; Fournier, Pierre-Luc PhD; Zhong, Athena; Shortell, Stephen M. PhD

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Journal of Healthcare Management 68(5):p 325-341, September/October 2023. | DOI: 10.1097/JHM-D-22-00107



This study investigated the association between Lean and performance outcomes in U.S. public hospitals. Public hospitals face substantial pressure to deliver high-quality care with limited resources. Lean-based management systems can provide these hospitals with alternative approaches to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Prior research shows that Lean can have positive impacts in hospitals ranging in ownership type, but more study is needed, specifically in publicly owned hospitals.


We performed multivariable regressions using data from the 2017 National Survey of Lean/Transformational Performance Improvement. The data were linked to publicly available hospital performance data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. We examined 11 outcomes measuring financial performance, quality of care, and patient experience and their associations with Lean adoption. We also explored potential drivers of positive outcomes by examining Lean implementation in each hospital, measured as the number of units using Lean tools and practices; leader commitment to Lean principles; Lean training and education among physicians, nurses, and managers; and use of a daily management system among C-suite leaders and managers.

Principal Findings: 

Lean adoption and implementation were associated with improved performance in U.S. public hospitals. Compared with hospitals that did not adopt Lean, those that did had significantly lower adjusted inpatient expenses per discharge and higher-than-average national scores on the appropriate use of medical imaging and timeliness of care. The study results also showed marginally significant improvements in patient experience and hospital earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization margins. Focusing on these select outcomes, we found that drivers of such improvements involved the extent of Lean implementation, as reflected by leadership commitment, daily management, and training/education while controlling for the number of years using Lean.

Practical Applications: 

Lean is a method of continuous improvement centered around a culture of providing high-value care for patients. Our findings provide insight into the potential benefits of Lean in U.S. public hospitals. Notably, they suggest that leader buy-in is key to success. When executives and managers support Lean initiatives and provide proper training for the workforce, improved financial and operational performance can result. This commitment, starting with upper management, may also play a broader role in the effort to reform healthcare while having a positive impact on patient care in U.S. public hospitals.

© 2023 Foundation of the American College of Healthcare Executives

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