Waiting is Waste

Waste. Once you start to see it, it's everywhere. It comes from lean thinking, was pioneered by Toyota, and manifests itself in 8 primary ways (see the image below). I want to focus on only one: waiting.


The Waste Room

One loose way to see waste is anything not valued by the customer, or any time spent waiting for the next step in a process. This can be seen easily if you are in a procedure and waiting for the assistant to bring something into the treatment room. Any time spent waiting on additional materials is waste.

One of the worst areas of waste is the first experience the patient has with the practice - the "waiting" room. We need to eliminate this idea, if not the room altogether. Hard to do? Pioneer Virginia Mason Health System did it using lean principles adapted from Toyota. 

The main emphasis here is to make sure your waiting room is not "waste," and get patients in on time. Call it a "Reception Area" or something else, and make it for those who are accompanying patients to their visit.

Patients Expect It

Unfortunately, most patients in medical facilities expect to wait, i.e., they expect waste. The fortunate news is you can surpass their expectations. Show them you respect their time and they are more likely to respect yours. If you want patients to show up on time, then you should run your practice in such a way to get them back on time.

Movie tickets or gift cards are a great way to wow a patient. Have something on hand so that if you run 15-20 minutes past their scheduled appointment time (not when they actually show up), you can let them know you were aware of falling behind. Say something like, "Today we had to take care of someone [insert reason, e.g., a customer in a lot of pain]. We apologize for not getting you back sooner. Please enjoy this free movie ticket as compensation for us not being on time."

This will likely surpass their expectations and is likely to "wow" the patient. If you are consistently giving away movie tickets for this reason, then you have a scheduling system problem (a topic for another post).



The great news is you can begin to eliminate waste and increase value, day by day, one small chunk at a time. It's the Japanese idea of "Kaizen," or continuous improvement.

Get your team to identify waste and get creative about ways to overcome it. You start to see processes and systems everywhere, including in your daily routine. Walk through your practice from the patient's point of view and see what they see. Anything they don't value, consider removing it.

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About the Author


Chris Brown, MBA, PhD, is the CEO of Elevate Practices and enjoys helping dentists understand the business side of their practice. He brings real-world experience, working in dental practices for multiple years, while also adding his academic experience and advanced education in entrepreneurship and small business management.

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