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Can Toyota make hospitals safer?

As patient volumes increase in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, some public hospitals are turning to a surprising source to help them keep pace: Toyota. By adapting the Japanese automaker’s production system to health care, hospital administrators have been able to cut costs and improve patient care. The philosophy could impact patient care in Oregon and nationwide.

Toyota uses a system known as “lean,” which involves a concentrated team effort to improve quality and efficiency. Private hospitals in Washington, Wisconsin and elsewhere began using the method over a decade ago, but it’s just now catching on in busy public hospitals. Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles recently used the philosophy to streamline the way it schedules surgeries, stores equipment and discharges patients. For example, its operating room staff reorganized their storage closet, clearly labeling everything and giving each item an assigned location. This makes it possible for staff to easily locate what they need and provide care quickly. Four public San Francisco Bay Area hospitals are also trying the approach.

Advocates of Toyota’s lean system, which has been honed by the car manufacturer over decades, say that research shows it can improve patient care and safety. However, some medical professionals are worried that the assembly line approach reduces real people down to nuts and bolts. Meanwhile, Toyota says that its philosophy saves lives.

Toyota’s lean system shows promise in making hospitals more efficient and safe, but hospital negligence still leads to thousands of illnesses, injuries and deaths each year throughout the U.S. Oregon residents who believe they have been the victim of medical malpractice may wish to consult with an attorney to determine the remedies that may be available.