Kaiser Permanente is trying to cut fat, but not from its patients waistlines. The Oakland health care giant is looking to make its Southern California operations more efficient, and in doing so, it’s taking a page from Toyota’s manufacturing playbook.

The Japanese carmaker originally created the “lean” model as way to streamline work flow by identifying waste and eliminating it.

“It’s not about forcing people to work faster,” explained Bohdan Oppenheim, an engineering professor at Loyola Marymount University who created the school’s lean health care systems program and is working with Kaiser. “We’re not trying to attach roller skates to people’s shoes or trying to lay people off or make them work harder, longer hours. We’re looking for wasted time and effort and streamlining those things so there’s more time to do value-added work.”

Oppenheim first saw the model in action at an Everett, Wash., Boeing plant where managers found it more efficient to tweak aircraft assembly by slowly sending a jetliner down an assembly line while workers constructed the beast. Years later when a colleague at MIT mentioned to Oppenheim the idea of applying the model to the health care industry, the engineering professor became very excited.

Oppenheim recently partnered with Dr. Michael Kanter, Kaiser’s regional medical director of quality and clinical analysis in Southern California, and they put 10 Kaiser lab employees through LMU’s program.

The health care system, which has labs spread among its medical centers and 200 office buildings in the area, also has a large centralized facility for more complicated work in North Hollywood.

The students used their workplace as a classroom in some cases, coming up with ideas such as how to move along testing samples more quickly rather than letting them collect in batches before being transferred.

In addition to discovering ways to speed the testing process by 75 percent, Oppenheim found that the practices he developed with students could save Kaiser up to $15 million when fully implemented. The idea is that employees trained in the program would integrate lean techniques into their workplaces, passing them along to others.

“It’s a cultural change as well as scientific,” Kanter said.

Heart Home

Medical device maker BioSig Technologies Inc. has brought in a slew of new executives and board members recently, and some of them might end up splitting their time between Los Angeles and the firm’s new business headquarters in Minneapolis.

The West L.A. startup, which makes a computer system that helps surgeons treating irregular heartbeats do more precise procedures, wants to take advantage of the Twin Cities’ large concentration of cardiovascular medical device companies.

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