Cars and Healthcare—Important Lessons Learned

Posted on by Helen Zak

What do making cars and delivering healthcare have in common? More than you think! Manufacturing and lean principles apply, although the details differ. For instance, making cars and caring for patients both include producing on demand, immediately, defect free, one at a time, without waste or error in an environment that is physically, emotionally and professionally safe.

A 2010 episode from NPR’s This American Life (approximately 1 hour in length) discusses what makes GM and Toyota different, using their 1984-2010 joint venture—New United Motors Manufacturing Incorporated. “Stopping the line” is one of the organizational differences highlighted and this has parallels in the healthcare world. 

I encourage you to download this episode (go to and scroll down to episode 403, Act One and Act Two), listen to it, and come together as a team to discuss the implications for your healthcare organization. Think of this as an audio book club, come together, listen together and learn together. It’s a tale of two cultures, and at first glance, they seem quite similar, but in fact, they are quite different.

The list of questions below will help get your discussion started:

  • Is your organization a GM or a Toyota? Why?
  • What were some of the cultural differences between GM, Toyota and NUMMI?
  • Did employees’ behaviors change?
  • Is “stopping the line” accepted practice in your organization? Why or why not?
  • What defects in healthcare might lead to “stopping the line”?
  • What lessons from NUMMI can you apply to your organization?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts as well as additional questions you come up with.

Helen Zak
Chief Development Officer
ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value

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