Health Care Leader Speaks on Use of Lean Best Practices

June 04, 2015

Helen Zak and Yong-Taek Min

Helen Zak, President and COO of Thedacare Center visits HCMBA course, Health Care Quality and Measurement taught by Professor Yong-Taek Min

As part of the Health Care MBA program, Boston-area health care leaders visit the School of Management to discuss the challenges facing the current health care environment and how HCMBA students, as current and future leaders, can affect change. An expert in the Lean field, Helen Zak, President and COO of Thedacare Center for Health Care Value, visited Professor Yong-Taek Min's Health Care and Quality Measurement course. 

Professor Min noted the value Ms. Zak brought to the classroom, "Helen has been working for ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value to help many health care organizations around the world become more efficient, quality-oriented, and patient-driven. There is no other person who can introduce Lean Health Care better than Helen Zak. It was invaluable opportunity for the students to learn Lean from her." 

Ms. Zak started by talking about the reasons why Lean has been popping up in health care: 

  • Costs are high and getting higher.
  • Little transparency exists in the system.
  • Providers are paid based on volume, not outcomes.

The mission of Thedacare Center for Health Care Value is to drive positive change in health care using the Lean methodology of reducing waste while maximizing value. Reducing waste in the care delivery process can cut costs, improve quality and create standard best practices.

To demonstrate the importance of standard best practices, Ms. Zak asked the class to draw a pig. The result was about fifteen pigs, all drawn differently. Zak then gave the students steps to follow while drawing the pigs, and she gave them a picture from which to model their drawings. With these standards in place, the drawings looked remarkably similar and very close to the model. 

The purpose of the demonstration was to show that while standardization may be perceived as impossible, especially in health care, it can ensure a repeatable result. For a sick patient, one who may be afraid and uncomfortable, it is comforting to know that the care they receive will be consistently the best possible care, regardless of where it is received.

The Health Care Quality and Measurement class taught SOM students about key tools that can help drive improvement. Helen Zak shared real examples of how these tools are put into practice in health care to facilitate problem solving at all levels of an organization.

Article contributions by Jen Zywiak ‘16SM