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Evaluation of an emergency department lean process improvement program to reduce length of stay


Study Objective — In recent years, lean principles have been applied to improve wait times in the emergency department (ED). In 2009, an ED process improvement program based on lean methods was introduced in Ontario as part of a broad strategy to reduce ED length of stay and improve patient flow. This study seeks to determine the effect of this program on ED wait times and quality of care.

Methods — The authors conducted a retrospective cohort study of all ED visits at program and control sites during 3 program waves from April 1, 2007, to June 30, 2011, in Ontario, Canada. Time series analyses of outcomes before and after the program and difference-in-differences analyses comparing changes in program sites with control sites were conducted.

Results — In before-after models among program sites alone, 90th percentile ED length of stay did not change in wave 1 (–14 minutes [95% confidence interval {CI} –47 to 20]) but decreased after wave 2 (–87 [95% CI –108 to –66]) and wave 3 (–33 [95% CI –50 to –17]); median ED length of stay decreased after wave 1 (–18 [95% CI –24 to –12]), wave 2 (–23 [95% CI –27 to –19]), and wave 3 (–15 [95% CI –18 to –12]). In all waves, decreases were observed in time to physician assessment, left-without-being-seen rates, and 72-hour ED revisit rates. In the difference-in-difference models, in which changes in program sites were compared with controls, the program was associated with no change in 90th percentile ED length of stay in wave 2 (17 [95% CI –0.2 to 33]) and increases in wave 1 (23 [95% CI 0.9 to 45]) and wave 3 (31 [95% CI 10 to 51]), modest reductions in median ED length of stay in waves 2 and 3 alone, and a decrease in time to physician assessment in wave 3 alone.

Conclusion — Although the program reduced ED waiting times, it appeared that its benefits were diminished or disappeared when compared with that of control sites, which were exposed to system-wide initiatives such as public reporting and pay for performance. This study suggests that further evaluation of the effectiveness of lean methods in the ED is warranted before widespread implementation.



Vermeulen MJ, Stukel TA, Guttmann A, Rowe BH, Zwarenstein M, Golden B, Nigam A, Anderson G, Bell RS, Schull MJ; ED Investigator Team. Ann Emerg Med. 2014; 64(5):427-38. Epub 2014 Jul 3.

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