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The Impact of the 5S System on the Healthcare Workplace

The 5S organization system is a fundamental part of Lean consulting.

A tool designed to improve efficiency, it uses a systematic approach to organization and cleanliness in the visual workplace.  Like Lean, 5S was created in Japan and because the original “S” terms were in Japanese, the English translations for each of the five steps may vary.  But commonly, the 5 S is translated to Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

As a Lean tool, 5S is used in numerous industries, including energy, financial services, and healthcare.

Application in Healthcare

Within the healthcare industry, there are many areas where 5S can be used to provide improvements – from the big picture of laying out entire hospital operating rooms, to the details of medical instrument trays for specific operations and procedures. 

To explain each of the S terms, let’s look at the example of medical instrument trays:

  • Sort involves the meticulous examination of everything in the work environment – in this example, the medical instrument trays used in an operating room.  Anything not related to a given procedure should be removed from the tray.  Any of the remaining items should be grouped by frequency of use.  Repeatedly used instruments should be separated from those rarely used in order to streamline work and create faster and leaner working conditions.
  • Set consists of putting everything in an assigned area so it can be used and returned as quickly and safely as possible. For example, commonly used trays and instruments should be arranged in sequential order of use and grouped by type so they are easily accessible, saving both time and effort.
  • Shine focuses on the cleanliness of the working environment.  A clean and well-organized workspace increases workplace safety and prolongs the longevity of tools and equipment.  After surgeries, any instrument erosion or damage should be identified and addressed immediately to prevent delays or mishaps during subsequent surgeries. 
  • Standardize creates a consistent approach to performing tasks and procedures so improvements achieved through Sort, Set, and Shine are sustained.  This may include creating standard tray set-ups for each procedure, or a recurring replacement schedule for the most frequently used instruments to prevent delays or extra work.
  • Sustain ensures that the 5S approach becomes a fundamental part of any efficiency initiative.  For medical instrument trays used in operating room continuously, that means cycling through each step on an ongoing basis and adjust what’s needed to reflect the ever-changing requirements in medicine.

No Workplace Too Small

The surgery tray example may only translate to minutes per tray in efficiency, but when applied to the ten+ plus trays used in surgery, it can make a difference in patient care.  Improvements that may seem small and inconsequential in comparison to the big picture of their overall environment are often equal or greater importance when their impact is calculated.  

No matter how small scale a work area may seem, improving it adds critical value.  Not every visual workplace setup improvement will have the life or death impact that an operating theater might, but it can mean new life for your business.