Lean in Healthcare: Time for Evolution or Revolution?

Sarah B. Wackerbarth, Susan S. Bishop, Adaeze C. Aroh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Lean has gained recognition in healthcare as a quality improvement tool. The purpose of this research was to examine the extent to which quality improvement projects in healthcare adhered to Lean's eight-step process. We analyzed 605 publications identified through a systematic literature review following PRISMA guidelines. Each publication was coded using a structured coding sheet. The most frequent type of publication reported empirical research (48.6%) and most of these (80.3%) shared the results of the Lean projects. Of the 237 publications reporting Lean projects, more than half (71.3%) used an experimental, one-site, pre/postdesign. The impact of the project was most often measured using a single metric (59.1%) that was operational (e.g., waiting time). Although most Lean project publications reported the use of tools to "break down the problem"(84.4%, Step 2) and "see countermeasures through"(70.0%, Step 6), fewer than half described using tools associated with each of the other steps. Projects completed an average of 2.77 steps and none of the projects completed all steps. Although some may perceive low adherence to the tenets of Lean as a deficiency, it may be that Lean approaches are evolving to better meet the needs of healthcare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-38
Number of pages7
JournalJournal for Healthcare Quality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© National Association for Healthcare Quality.


  • efficiency
  • healthcare
  • lean
  • literature review
  • quality management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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