Lean methodology for performance improvement in the trauma discharge process

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High-volume, complex services such as trauma and acute care surgery are at risk for inefficiency. Lean process improvement can reduce health care waste. Lean allows a structured look at processes not easily amenable to analysis. We applied lean methodology to the current state of communication and discharge planning on an urban trauma service, citing areas for improvement.


A lean process mapping event was held. The process map was used to identify areas for immediate analysis and intervention—defining metrics for the stakeholders. After intervention, new performance was assessed by direct data evaluation. The process was completed with an analysis of effect and plans made for addressing future focus areas.


The primary area of concern identified was interservice communication. Changes centering on a standardized morning report structure reduced the number of consult questions unanswered from 67% to 34% (p = 0.0021). Physical therapy rework was reduced from 35% to 19% (p = 0.016). Patients admitted to units not designated to the trauma service had 1.6 times longer stays (p < 0.0001). The lean process lasted 8 months, and three areas for new improvement were identified: (1) the off-unit patients; (2) patients with length of stay more than 15 days contribute disproportionately to length of stay; and (3) miscommunication exists around patient education at discharge.


Lean process improvement is a viable means of health care analysis. When applied to a trauma service with 4,000 admissions annually, lean identifies areas ripe for improvement. Our inefficiencies surrounded communication and patient localization. Strategies arising from the input of all stakeholders led to real solutions for communication through a face-to-face morning report and identified areas for ongoing improvement. This focuses resource use and identifies areas for improvement of throughput in care delivery.

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