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Heather FraizerLean.... Coming to a Physicians' Office Near You!


Training Specialist with Northwestern Michigan College

Just as with many industries, the healthcare field has been experiencing and continues to undergo dramatic shifts. Not only does technology continue to change the actual practice of care, but how patients’ information is tracked and billed has changed dramatically with the implementation of electronic health records.

Changes in how services are reimbursed from insurance companies, which are moving from a fee-for-service system to a pay-for-value or outcomes system, have started to challenge the traditional business model underlying most practices. Combine this with the addition of millions of new patients to family practices across the country with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act; many practices are looking for new ways to provide more value to more patients at the same or lower cost. Enter Lean.

Hospitals and large healthcare systems started embracing lean probably a decade or more ago. There are several great lean journey stories about hospitals including Thedacare in Wisconsin, Virginia Mason in Seattle, and even Henry Ford Hospital right here in Michigan. Now the benefits of applying lean thinking and principles are starting to be recognized by physicians and practice managers.

Here in northern Michigan, this initiative is being spearheaded by the Northern Physicians Organization (NPO) headed by Executive Director Marie Hooper. Marie was first exposed to lean principles while working at Munson Medical Center in a leadership position. She engaged her team in a lean improvement project facilitated by NMC’s Training Services. From that moment on, she was sold. Now NPO is helping fund lean improvement projects in several area physician offices.

The first practice to sign up with NPO was West Front Primary Care (WFPC), a large family practice located in Traverse City. They engaged in a project to increase face-to-face time between patients and care managers — in essence, provide more value to their patients, which is the very purpose of lean. West Front’s Dr. Nathan March, a member of the initial lean improvement team, says lean has helped them “make the realization we need to be patient-focused and let go of doing things because ‘that’s what we’ve always done.’ We need to review from the top down everything we do to add more value from the patient’s perspective and reduce waste to increase care.”

As many of you already know, these practices are embarking on an exciting journey and adventure! So next time you’re at the doctor’s office, take note of any indicators of lean — you might not be imagining it!

To learn more about how you can start your lean journey, please contact us at 231-995-2218,, or

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