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Does lean management reduce burnout in health care?

New research shows the benefits of lean management techniques in the health care setting

In a new study published in December 2021 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Dorothy Hung, PhD, MA, MPH, director of the Center for Lean Engagement and Research in Healthcare (CLEAR), and co-authors looked at whether or not an “industry-based LEAN management approach” could reduce the amount of time physicians spend on administrative tasks.

“Lean redesigns aim to streamline workflows and balance task distributions, which may result in more appropriate allocation of time and effort that primary care physicians spend on various activities throughout the day,” according to Hung and her co-authors.

The authors set out to determine if lean redesign would result in more efficient patient care and less time on computer-based tasks.

The research team looked at data from 317 primary care physicians and found that lean redesigns that focused on improved workflow most immediately saved time for physicians completing administrative desktop tasks—20% less time was spent on the computer, leaving more time for patient care.

“Changing when, where, and how much time is spent on desktop medicine, in the electronic health record (EHR), which might also include administrative tasks, can reduce physician workload while releasing time for more direct patient care. This is sorely needed as over half of primary care physicians report symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion and a low sense of personal accomplishment in their medical practice,” said Hung.

“An ultimate goal of this work is to increase value in health care for both patients and providers. For example, if care teams are able to complete tasks quicker, that translates into fewer delays and potentially less anxiety among patients due to shorter wait times,” said Hung. “Not to mention time savings for physicians who are already overstretched in their work.”

Lean redesigns, if implemented unilaterally throughout the healthcare system, could mitigate rising costs in insurance premiums, patient safety and medical errors, said Hung. Co-authors include: Gabriela Mujal MHA,  Anji Jin, PhD, and Su-Ying Lian, PhD from Sutter Health, Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute.