Medical Schools Need Greater Capacity

In a previous posting, I described the disconnect between supply and demand for doctors in the United States. That article noted that not enough doctors go to rural areas, and that some specialties go begging for doctors while others have too many applicants for available residencies.

I also mentioned a
commentary by a Harvard Medical School professor about the shortage of doctors. I didn’t describe it in detail, but his commentary noted that the Association of American Medical Colleges is requesting medical schools to increase enrollments by 30 percent over the next seven to 15 years.

Is there a shortage of doctors because not enough people want to become doctors? Or is it because medical schools lack the capacity to produce enough doctors?

A recent article in the Miami Herald (not available online) makes it clear that the problem is capacity, not supply.

The article notes that Florida International University will be opening a new medical school a year from now, with an initial class of 40 students. The university has already received more than 1,600 applicants from around the country for those 40 slots.

The article, written by Oscar Corral, also notes the bigger picture:

Traditionally, medical schools across the country are flooded with applicants every year and accept less than half of them.

In 2007, 42,315 people applied to medical schools in the United States and only 17,759 were accepted, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

I mention all this because increasing capacity is one of the biggest benefits that can be achieved through application of lean principles.

Of course, medical schools are not factories. And while I’m sure there are many opportunities to eliminate waste in school processes through lean techniques, that doesn’t necessarily translate into the kinds of capacity improvements that would occur in manufacturing.

Can a lean approach help increase capacity in a medical school? How would that be achieved? If anyone has experience that is relevant, please share it below.


Ben said...

Medical schools could double their capacity overnight--literally--by adding a "night shift." You wouldn't let a factory sit idle all night when you needed to increase capacity, so apply the same thinking to med school. Your costs would increase, but so would your revenues and your economies of scale would really kick in.

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