5 Types of Waste in Healthcare Environments

Lean processes help to promote practices that improve supply management and patient care over time. Taking time to pinpoint the waste in an environment is one of the most critical steps in the lean process. Knowing what wastes are holding back your healthcare facility from working at maximum capacity can help pinpoint where changes are needed.

5 Types of Waste in Healthcare Environments

Here are 5 types of waste in healthcare that lean processes decrease or eliminate:


This form of waste takes place when you produce more than what is needed right now by the customer. Examples of this waste in a hospital are:

  • Reassembling instrument sets in large batches while the autoclave sits idle. The symptom is, “We do not have enough instrument sets.”
  • Spiking IV bags in Pre-Surgery for the whole day, while patients wait. The symptom is, “Our on-time start percentages are very low.”

  • 2. Transportation. 

    You see this form of waste when the patient or another type of value (instrument set) is moved without adding value. Examples of this form of waste are:

  • Blood specimens collected at the oncology unit going on a hospital tour before reaching the lab
  • IV and pumps go from the patient room to sterile processing and back via utility rooms, to accomplish a few seconds of cleaning.

  • 3. Motion. 

    This form of waste refers to staff members moving without adding value. This becomes evident in the amount of walking staff members do during their day, looking or “hunting” for something. Why is it that clinicians are not provided the tools and supplies they need to take care of patients? Some examples of motion waste are:

  • Searching for a patient lift, a positioning device, an IV pump, or any piece of equipment. The level of frustration staff members feel when they cannot find what they need is enormous. Delay of care can also be poor implications for the patient.
  • Searching for paperwork. If your hospital still requires hand-written paperwork for surgical patients, you may find yourself scrambling for that document while the patient is on the table.

  • 4. Waiting.

    This idle time is created when supplies, information, people, and equipment are not ready. If you find yourself waiting on any kind of resource, you need to start asking why and be prepared to act once you get the answer. Just one rule: blaming somebody else is not allowed. Here are some practical examples you can verify for yourself:

  • Take a stroll through the waiting rooms. How many patients do you see waiting?
  • Go to Pre-Surgery. How many patients are ready, but their OR is not?
  • Go to PACU. How many patients are recovered, but there is no room for them to be moved to?

  • 5. Over-Processing. 

    This is the waste of overdoing. It is so easy to believe you are doing the right thing by overdoing. Think about the times you do this at home: “If three screws will do, five must be better.” Here are some more examples from the hospital:

  • In one perioperative services department, staff was checking case carts four times, due to the unspoken distrust of the prior processes.
  • The par level method, where supplies are counted or eye-balled daily. Modern inventory management techniques and tools provide excellent alternatives to this outdated method.

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    Made in collaboration with the Leonard Group America