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Ann Diagn Pathol. 2009 Oct;13(5):322-33. doi: 10.1016/j.anndiagpath.2009.06.005. Epub 2009 Aug 14.

Adapting lean to histology laboratories.

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Histology laboratories (histolabs) can increase productivity and reduce turnaround time and errors by using any one of several available management tools. After a few years of operation, all histolabs develop workflow problems. Histology laboratories handling more than 20,000 cases per year benefit the most from implementing management tools, as occurred in the 25 facilities summarized in this article. Discontinuous workflow, lack of "pulling" between steps, accepting unavoidable waiting times while working with small batches within work cells, and a workflow with an uneven rate of completion, are some of the adaptations required by the Lean system when it is used in histology because 70% of the tasks are manual and the flow has to be interrupted to add value to the pieces of tissue during tissue processing, no matter how short that step is. After all these adaptations are incorporated, the histolab becomes as "Lean" as it can be, and the qualifier is also a recognition of the effort and personnel involvement in the implementation. Given its service nature, productivity increments do not expand the histolab customer base and could lead to staffing reductions. This is one of the causes of reluctance by some employees for implementing these techniques which are mostly driven by cost reductions sought by insurance companies and administrators, and not necessarily because of a real medical need to reduce the turnaround time. Finally, any histolab wanting to improve its workflow can follow some easy steps presented here as a guide to accomplish that objective. These steps stress the need for the supervisors to insure that the personnel in the histology laboratory are being paid at a comparable rate as other histolabs in the area.

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