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Clin Lab Med. 2004 Dec;24(4):865-99.

Error-free pathology: applying lean production methods to anatomic pathology.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Shadyside Hospital, Cancer Pavilion, 3rd Floor, 5150 Centre Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, USA.


The current state of our health care system calls for dramatic changes. In their pathology department, the authors believe these changes may be accomplished by accepting the long-term commitment of applying a lean production system. The ideal state of zero pathology errors is one that should be pursued by consistently asking, "Why can't we?" The philosophy of lean production systems began in the manufacturing industry: "All we are doing is looking at the time from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing that time line by removing non-value added wastes". The ultimate goals in pathology and overall health care are not so different. The authors' intention is to provide the patient (customer) with the most accurate diagnostic information in a timely and efficient manner. Their lead histotechnologist recently summarized this philosophy: she indicated that she felt she could sleep better at night knowing she truly did the best job she could. Her chances of making an error (in cutting or labeling) were dramatically decreased in the one-by-one continuous flow work process compared with previous practices. By designing a system that enables employees to be successful in meeting customer demand, and by empowering the frontline staff in the development and problem solving processes, one can meet the challenges of eliminating waste and build an improved, efficient system.

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