The concept of Kaizen is not new to healthcare; as part of the Lean process derived from the Toyota Production System, the ideas of “continuous improvement” and the elimination of all waste in the manufacturing chain has been applied to U.S. healthcare in many ways, shapes, and forms over the last few years as facilities try to get smarter, faster, and better at healing people. In their recently published book Healthcare Kaizen: Engaging Front-Line Staff in Sustainable Continuous Improvements, authors Mark Graban and Joseph E. Swartz have added some new wrinkles to the mix that may just be keys to the post-Reform landscape.

In addition to an overview of the general concept of Kaizen and its principles, including specifics on the last 25 years in healthcare, the book includes many practical real-world examples of ways that Kaizen ideas have been implemented at various healthcare facilities around the world. The preface encourages readers of various types to skip around the book as they see fit, and indeed, that approach seems to make sense, as there is a lot of information here that may (or may not) be useful to many varied roles in the healthcare system, from executives and managers to nursing staff and maintenance.

Healthcare designers, of course, are not one of those roles, but I think there is still much that the design community can take from a book like this one. By learning various ways that frontline staff and middle management might improve their processes, designers can adapt the spaces in a facility to help better achieve those goals. Sections on workplace organization and workstation design are most relevant, but who knows what innovations might be made from reading a section titled “Creativity over Capital in the Lab” or “Fewer Supply Chain Delays” (to name just a couple).

But most significantly, Healthcare Kaizen helps to illustrate the importance of factoring in all the links of the healthcare chain in the implementation of Lean concepts. Without total buy-in, from the top of the organization down, the process will never be as Lean as it can truly be. The healthcare design community would do well to consider all of those roles and their places in the process before dipping a toe into improving them through design.