How the 5S Mindset Can Improve Healthcare

Increasing Efficiency in Healthcare Organizations

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Foremost in the minds of healthcare organization leaders in today's challenging reimbursement climate is to find a way to provide high-value care. Put another way, as the cost of providing care continues to escalate at an ever-increasing speed, healthcare organizations are under increasing pressure to provide the highest quality care at the lowest possible cost.

While there are many varying approaches to reach this goal, one seems to dominate the landscape as a way to produce improved health outcomes, financial results, and patient and staff satisfaction scores.

Continuous quality improvement in healthcare organizations has been widely accepted as the most effective model for increasing value.

What is 5S?

Healthcare organizations are increasingly turning to lean mindsets to achieve greater value. 5S is one of the more popular tools in use to achieve lean healthcare. Developed by Toyota in the early 1980s, 5S is a five-phase technique that improves value within an organization by consistently and continually analyzing operations to identify waste and inefficiency and then devise new solutions to become leaner. It's been used across the globe for several decades. Since the 1990s, innovative minds in healthcare leadership have borrowed and applied the 5S mindset, achieving impressive results.

The 5 Phases of 5S

Creating a 5S workplace within a healthcare organization can lead to tangible improvements in value by improving outcomes and the patient experience while maximizing talent within the organization and using the fewest resources.

The five steps below provide a basic approach for healthcare organizations that wish to implement the 5S approach:

Step 1. Sort

Step one is about categorizing items in the work environment. It involves removing unnecessary items from work spaces and organizing the work space based on process. Experts advocate for two dominant approaches to sorting.

Items can be sorted into three groups based on frequency of use such as:

  1. Always used
  2. Sometimes used
  3. Rarely used

Or, they can be organized by product families like IV requirements, respiratory, elimination, etc.

The reason behind sorting is to identify the more important items needed to do your work and relegate lower priority supplies to a space that does not encroach on the highly valued space that should be set aside for the high-use, most-important items. Sort should be a continuous process, and should be done in as little time as possible.

Step 2. Set In Order

Now that you've set aside space and sorted and separated your frequently-used from your infrequently-used supplies, you'll start the next stage of organization: Set your medical supplies in order. It's time to get specific with how and where you'll store these items.

Assign a specific, permanent, and easily accessible location for each type of medical supply so staff will always know where to find what they are looking for, even when they are stressed, tired, and rushed.

"Permanent" does not mean that the storage location cannot or should not be moved when an opportunity to improve the storage and its location arises due to the continuous quality improvement efforts.

Define what quantities of each supply should be in that location and the minimum quantity that will trigger re-stocking. In manufacturing, these are known as "par-levels" and this terminology easily transfers to healthcare materials management.

Organize medical supplies in parallel and perpendicular order for easy access and to reduce the chance of grabbing the wrong item. Give each item set boundaries with shelves, bins or drawer organizers for example. Develop an easy and obvious labeling system for everything you store. Labels should be easily read. Many organizations have found that introducing a color-coding system to their storage is very helpful. Always look for ways to simplify and improve your sorting system.

Learn more about products and concepts in medical supply storage:

Step 3. Shine

Maintain a clean work space and storage space. Cleanliness has many benefits in healthcare:

  • It reduces the spread of bacteria, viruses, and infectious diseases in your healthcare facility.
  • Patient and staff health and safety improves.
  • The facility becomes more attractive to the patients and families who use your facility and its services, which can boost your Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) formal public reporting scores.

(Note: HCAHPS asks patients to rate their experiences regarding their inpatient stay. The ratings are shared with the public and can impact a healthcare organization's reputation in the community as well the amount it will be reimbursed for services provided to Medicare patients.)

Step 4: Standardize

Now formalize the responsibilities, the space allocation, the par-levels, the organization system, and the cleaning requirements for your organization. In short, "standardize," your "sort," "set in order," and "shine" activities so that they are executed on a consistent basis. Everyone involved should understand their specific responsibilities in these processes. The most successful 5S organizations in any industry use visual aids to quickly and accurately alert employees to standards compliance.

Step 5: Sustain

The fifth "S," "sustain," can make or break your efforts. Your team has invested time and effort, and no doubt money, to sort, set in order, shine, and standardize. Sustaining these efforts for the long-term will render a larger return on these investments. This is why 5S is considered a "mindset" and not a short-term project. It is a way of thinking about how you will operate your organization so that it provides the highest value healthcare.


Fanny Y.F. Young The Use of 5S in Healthcare Services: a Literature Review. International Journal of Business and Social Science. September 2014.

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