Lean In: How Lean Management Principles Enhance Veterinary Practice Efficiency

Written by Angela Beal, DVM
veterinary management

Efficiency is more than a buzzword. Efficiency is absolutely crucial in creating a smooth-running and sustainable veterinary practice. Lean management is a five-step thought process that can streamline daily operations, increase productivity, and ultimately enhance patient care and client and team satisfaction.

Lean is a methodology of continuous improvement that builds on creating and providing value while minimizing waste and unnecessary resources. Veterinary management teams who incorporate Lean principles into everyday workflows and systems do more with less, enhance their productivity, reduce costly errors, and create a more organized, efficient, and enjoyable environment for all.

What is Lean management?

Lean is an ongoing process that strives for perpetual improvement and enhancement. The process creates more productive, profitable, and pleasant work practices by eliminating non- value-adding activities and enhancing beneficial processes to deliver better results and—in veterinary medicine—outcomes. Although Lean was originally developed for manufacturing, the methodology quickly spread to other industries and has been employed with great success.

What are the five principles of Lean?

The Lean thought process can be broken down into five key steps or principles that, together, create a cycle of continued workflow enhancement. The five Lean principles include:

  • Identifying value
  • Mapping the value stream
  • Creating flow
  • Establishing pull
  • Seeking perfection

Applying Lean principles to veterinary practice management

Lean management principles are easy to incorporate and yield rapid results by helping to identify and prioritize the valued aspects of work and to eliminate frustrating barriers and inefficiencies. As a result, a team can provide greater service without greater effort or stress. Here’s how to apply each principle to your practice.

Step #1: Identify value from the client’s perspective

Start by identifying what your clients value most about your practice, which could be your high care standards, personalized and compassionate approach, convenient hours or scheduling, thorough communication, or comprehensive services. Recognizing your client’s needs and what keeps them coming back to your practice can help you tailor your offerings to deliver maximum client value in every interaction.

Step #2: Map the value stream (i.e., the client and patient journey)

Using the value(s) you determined in step one as a guide, map out your practice's processes, which includes documenting your team’s every step to deliver veterinary care. Follow the client and patient journey from the initial appointment, to diagnosis and treatment, to follow-up
communication and visits. By visualizing the entire workflow—including the clinic front and back—you can identify inefficiencies and waste that may be negatively affecting the final value or outcome.

Step #3: Create flow by eliminating recognized waste

Wasted effort is time and money and only serves to clog your workflow, decrease satisfaction, and potentially affect patient care, so create a better flow. Eliminate wasted time and resources and make more value-added efforts. In practice, this may include prolonged client wait times, repetitive or duplicated tasks, excess inventory, outdated or incompatible practice technologies, and under-utilized staff.

Step #4: Establish pull by standardizing common tasks

Pull refers to the client’s ability to take advantage of your practice’s specific services (i.e., values) and should ideally be easy and effortless. Once you’ve eliminated unnecessary disruptions and barriers from the client and patient journey, you can better optimize the client’s access by following standardized protocols for the most common tasks (e.g., scheduling, patient intake, treatments, and discharge). Clear guidelines ensure all team members understand the workflow, set expectations, and ensure a smooth and consistent experience for the client and patient. Consistency in turn adds to the perceived value.

Step #5: Seek perfection through ongoing review and team input

Lean management is not a one-and-done system—it’s a way of thinking that provides continuous insight into how you can refine practice processes and deliver a greater experience for your clients, patients, and, ultimately, your team. You must keep your trained eye on measures, such as value and waste, and also seek regular staff and client feedback via team meetings, surveys, and reviews. Then, use those insights to inform the management process and help you tailor the Lean management principles for greater effect.

Adopting Lean management principles not only enhances a veterinary practice’s operational efficiency, but also positively impacts client satisfaction and overall business success. Focus on delivering value from the client's perspective and always improving and innovating your practice systems and efforts. Then, your veterinary team can provide more timely, effective, and compassionate care without creating more work and stress, or requiring additional help. Furthermore, by reducing waste and optimizing resources, Lean principles can drive cost savings and improve the bottom line, ensuring your practice’s long-term sustainability and growth.