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White Papers

Going Lean in Health Care

This white paper describes how Lean management principles, which have been used effectively in manufacturing companies for decades, can be successfully applied to improve the delivery of health care.


  • Key concepts in Lean thinking
  • Applying Lean thinking to health care
  • Examples of Lean thinking applied in health care that, when applied rigorously and throughout an entire organization, demonstrate a positive impact on productivity, cost, quality, and timely delivery of services
  • Glossary of terms
  • Resources

Note: French translation of this paper also available for download.

Lean management principles have been used effectively in manufacturing companies for decades, particularly in Japan. IHI believes that Lean principles can be — indeed, already are being — successfully applied to the delivery of health care.

Lean thinking begins with driving out waste so that all work adds value and serves the customer's needs. Identifying value-added and non-value-added steps in every process is the beginning of the journey toward Lean operations.

In order for Lean principles to take root, leaders must first work to create an organizational culture that is receptive to Lean thinking. The commitment to Lean must start at the very top of the organization, and all staff should be involved in helping to redesign processes to improve flow and reduce waste.

Although health care differs in many ways from manufacturing, there are also surprising similarities: Whether building a car or providing health care for a patient, workers must rely on multiple, complex processes to accomplish their tasks and provide value to the customer or patient. Waste — of money, time, supplies, or good will — decreases value.

How to Cite This Paper:
Going Lean in Health Care. IHI Innovation Series white paper. Cambridge, MA: Institute for Healthcare Improvement; 2005. (Available at


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