After a hospital has narrowed its activities and processes to Value added activities and processes, and it has organized the activities and processes into a logical Flow, the next Lean principle is the principle of Variation. Variation in Lean is the elimination of variation as much as possible in activities and processes. Usually Variation is fulfilled by standardizing activities and processes. Standardizing activities and processes in a hospital increases efficiency and productivity by calling attention to activities and processes that waste employee and patient time and energy.
The goal of Variation is to create standardized activities and processes that allow staff to be actively working towards solving a problem rather than reacting to the problem. However, a hospital is a reactive place. Although a patient’s physical reaction to an injury and its treatment can be predicted, anytime a patient’s reaction is out of the ordinary, individualized treatment must be implemented, making treatment often a reactive process.
At a specialized hospital, such as a cardiovascular hospital, all patients can be screened, and only those that fit the profile accepted, and those that do not fit the profile removed. As a result specialized health care facilities have had a lot of success in reducing variation. However, most hospitals accept cases that range from elective surgery that is often standardized and predictable to acute treatment that requires individualized treatment.
Due to a hospital’s reactive nature, Variation is a principle that must be tailored to the hospital’s unique needs by a Lean specialist. The health care organization is best served to focus on standardizing activities and processes as far as possible. Although the hospital cannot control the Variation that comes to them, they can control the activities and processes they have in place to react to the Variation they serve.