How Hospitals Can Use the 5S Methodology for Better Healthcare

If you ask people working in a hospital what their regular day looks like, they will most probably say chaotic and stressful. Unlike most offices, hospitals are guaranteed hot spots of activity. Physicians are seeing patients left and right, nurses are monitoring and administering medications, and janitorial staff is ensuring every nook and cranny are disinfected. Everything and everyone should be a well-oiled machine because delays and mistakes can spell a difference between a patient’s recovery or demise.

Hospitals implement processes that can improve efficiency and quality while reducing costs and eliminating waste. Countries with developed healthcare systems like Singapore and Japan usually see more positive health outcomes, especially in managing the challenges of the pandemic. One system that hospitals can use to control the chaos is called the 5S methodology.

What is the 5S methodology?

First developed by Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda for their manufacturing plants, 5S provides a framework organizing the workspace from physical to functional needs. The idea behind it is that people won’t waste time and energy looking for what they need and getting distracted with miscellaneous tasks and items if their workplace is in proper order. The lost time is a constant problem, with nurses spending up to at least 40 hours a month looking for equipment, according to Nursing Times.

As evident in the name, 5S comprises five phases that start with an S. Each stage follows a set of instructions. They are:

  1. Sort

The first step is sorting through the clutter and identifying which resources are not necessary. That can include expired and outdated medicine, broken equipment, and redundant data. Anything that only occupies space without giving any benefits. Hospitals can have a “big sorting day” once a month when each department is required to audit their materials.

  1. Straighten

Everything in its place is the rallying cry of the Straighten step. The goal is to organize the workspace by function and frequency of use. Commonly used and emergency items should be placed within reach. Proper visualization through labels and signs is also vital in this step.  The use of visual cues will avoid instances of confusion and errors, which are costly and deadly for hospitals. Time is not wasted by digging for what you need under the pile of unnecessary items.

  1. Shine

Keeping the workplace organized and clean is not a one-time effort. It is also not a one-person activity because mess can be infectious. All hospital employees should be responsible for their own areas and not rely on the janitorial staff to keep everything orderly. Relevant reports can be misplaced and thrown away if they’re left scattered about.

  1. Standardize


during a check up

In this stage, hospitals develop rules and policies that ensure compliance with the 5S methodology is part of the routine. Employees already know what is expected of them and what they should do to keep things in order. Hospitals can also assign a 5S officer per department who will be responsible for reminding their colleagues about protocols and for serving as an auditor during quarterly reviews.

  1. Sustain

Efforts will be in vain if the 5S methodology only lasts for a few months. Commitment to the system should be long-lasting and robust. Think of this step as a professionally applied garage floor coating — resistant to cracks, extreme impact, and harmful elements. It can only be done by changing the mindset and attitude of employees. Hospitals must embed the 5S process from employee onboarding and training to year-end evaluations.

Hospitals can reap a lot of benefits by implementing the 5S methodology. The quality of healthcare increases when hospital personnel does not worry about misplaced equipment, messy workplaces, and wayward papers.

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