The Washington Post has a nice story about Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. It seems they've adopted the Japanese management concept of Kaizen, or continuous incremental improvement to streamline operations.

Like the Japanese automaker's plants, the glistening new cancer center here was designed around themes of high quality, super-efficiency and putting the customer first. Errors are embraced as learning opportunities, and every one of Virginia Mason's 5,000 employees is encouraged to offer ideas.

In adopting the Toyota mind-set, [Gary] Kaplan [Virginia Mason chief executive] said, the 350-bed hospital has saved $6 million in planned capital investment, freed 13,000 square feet of space, cut inventory costs by $360,000, reduced staff walking by 34 miles a day, shortened bill-collection times, slashed infection rates, spun off a new business and, perhaps most important, improved patient satisfaction.

Such a radical new management style did not come without strains. A few top executives have left, and many physicians have balked at what they consider threats to their autonomy. Sending teams to Japan and hiring consultants cost about $1.5 million.