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St. Luke's Blogs

The Big Question for Health Care: Who is Your Customer, Really?

By Dr. David C. Pate, News and Community
April 3, 2013

At our annual St. Luke’s Health System Summit in February, we were honored to have Gary S. Kaplan, M.D., chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason Health System in the Seattle area, provide a keynote address regarding the Virginia Mason Production System (VMPS). Read St. Luke’s Health System Vice President of Performance Excellence Mike Reno’s report on what Virginia Mason has done, and then watch part of Dr. Kaplan’s presentation in the video that follows.

VMPS is how Virginia Mason is pursuing and achieving “Zero Defect Medicine” by applying the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing principles to medicine.

At the beginning of the 21st century, many health care organizations were suffering major financial hardships, and Virginia Mason was no exception. A change was needed or the organization that began in 1920 would not survive.

In 2001, Dr. Kaplan and the board of directors at Virginia Mason challenged its leadership with a question: Who is your customer? The answer – “It's the patient” – came quickly, but a deeper look inside Virginia Mason revealed processes that were designed for the health care provider and staff.

The question encouraged Virginia Mason leaders to look for a management system that placed the customer, quality, and patient safety as the organization's highest priorities and focus.

Leaders at Virginia Mason connected with Boeing, another Puget Sound business leader, and began evaluating other businesses’ use of the Toyota Production System (TPS) and lean manufacturing principles. Virginia Mason leaders saw value in the TPS principles of making quality and safety top priorities, focusing on the customer, relentlessly reducing waste (of which health care has an abundance), and engaging staff in continuous improvement.

By June 2002, following a mandatory executive team trip to Japan to observe TPS in action, VM became the first health care organization to declare VMPS as its management system and to fully adopt the tools of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement.

With more than a decade of experience now, Virginia Mason is the furthest along in implementing lean in health care, and has been the industry leader setting patient-care quality standards. VMPS is a daily part of work at Virginia Mason and is integral to the organization's success.

Here’s part of Dr. Kaplan’s presentation at the Summit.


About The Author

David C. Pate, M.D., J.D., is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System, based in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Pate joined the System in 2009. He received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.