Utilizing Lean Principles in Dentistry – Part 1

Dr Hendrik Lai

In healthcare as a whole, providers are constantly being pulled in a million different directions, trying to please multiple parties that are only considering the situation from their own side. Finding a balance between government regulations, insurance demands, and patient health is a battle that plagues healthcare providers in every corner of the industry. Dentistry is no different. While it’s ideal for the focus to be on patient care and the practice itself, every professional knows that working with insurance and the government can eat precious hours out of the day.

To try and combat this difficult situation, it’s imperative to implement ways to operate more efficiently; using “lean principles” can revolutionize the day-to-day of your practice operations and alleviate some of the stress that everyone on your team feels. If you’re not sure where to start, we’ll break down what lean is and how to implement it, as well as share some practical uses in dentistry.

What is “Lean”?

The focus of lean methodology is to eliminate waste of all kinds within the business flow. Offices can waste time, money, resources, and more, but lean can help address these items and decrease waste within your practice. This methodology was largely popularized by Toyota, who used lean to reduce waste within the manufacturing process. It was so successful that it helped set Toyota apart, making the practices at this Japanese vehicle manufacturer considered to be the gold standard. Lean was quickly adopted in manufacturing, but it took a bit longer to catch on in other industries, such as healthcare.

Lean’s Eight Areas of Waste

To better understand lean methodology, it’s important to know that there are eight areas of waste that organizations should target when looking to eliminate their waste. These are the larger categories or “buckets” of items that you can look at within your dentistry practice to find optimization opportunities:

  1. Reduce Waiting/Idle Time: Anytime patients, dentists, receptionists, or dental hygienists are left to wait for one reason or another, this is considered idle time, which is a major component of organizational waste.
  2. Minimize Inventory: Keeping excessive supplies on hand, including office supplies, is a potential waste because these items may become obsolete or get ruined before they are put to use.
  3. Defects: Delivering products or services that are not up to the right level of quality will end up wasting time, money, and resources. Ensuring your practice operates with quality in mind can help reduce waste from defects.
  4. Unused Talent: Not having the right people in the right roles can be incredibly detrimental for many reasons, because, at its core, unused talent is a waste of skills.
  5. Overproduction: Making too much product that exceeds demand is wasteful. In the case of dentistry, ordering too many tests or providing an unnecessary treatment would be considered overproduction.
  6. Transportation: Using resources to more efficiently transport items can lead to massive savings. Whether it’s getting the supplies your office needs or ensuring clients can easily access your services, cutting out obstacles regarding transportation will pay dividends.
  7. Motion: This area of waste is incredibly interesting in any type of healthcare; essentially, to avoid waste of motion, your practice needs to have proper workspaces set up for the tasks at hand. If a hygienist had to clean teeth without all their tools in an optimized space, it would take much more time.
  8. Extra Processing: If data is wrong in your system because it was entered incorrectly, extra processing will be required to fix it.

Understanding the context and all the ways waste can happen within your practice is the first step to thinking lean and operating with a lean approach.

Let's Talk If you’re ready to take the next step in growing your dental office or DSO we’d love to hear from you. Click here, or follow this link to schedule a time to speak with Hendrik. https://calendly.com/sageconsulting-hendrik

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