Sharon completed her PhD in 2004, focusing on lean and supply chain management in the UK furniture industry. During the latter stages of her study she began looking at how health care might be affected by similar themes and in 2008 she began lecturing and researching lean in health care at Warwick Medical School.

Sharon is now a lecturer in Operations Management at Cardiff Business School and continues to be interested in what health care can learn from industry. She concentrates on how key elements, such as having whole systems thinking, common terminology, consistent measurements and good relationships, can impact on processes and outcomes.

Sharon’s project

Project title: Lean, Agile or Leagile? A feasibility study to explore and compare the utility of pathway technologies

Lean thinking has recently become the focus of many health care improvement programmes. It reduces waste, increases consistency in care and improves how processes and systems function. Results are encouraging, but does this one-size-fits-all approach deliver the desired excellence in patient care?

'There have been some good results and positive outcomes achieved with lean, but I don’t think it’s the complete picture,' says Sharon. 'I want to see how integrated care pathways are designed and whether other approaches are needed to support patient-centred care.'

'What I’m really talking about is standardised care versus more individualised, patient-centred care,' she explains, 'and whether the design of care pathways fully reflects some of the complexities of patient-centred care.'

Reaching across disciplines

Sharon’s research will combine a literature review, care pathway profiling, focus groups for scenario testing, and reflective interviews with relevant participants.

'For the literature review I’m looking to industries outside of health care, because that’s where the majority of the examples are,' she says. 'I aim to find out what being lean and agile would look like, and whether it can be adapted for conventional integrated care pathways.'

'Crossing multidisciplinary boundaries is very challenging to begin with, but ultimately it’s very rewarding,' Sharon explains. 'It stimulates new ideas and it forces you to think about how to communicate effectively with audiences that may not share common understanding or terminology.'

She plans to profile three integrated care pathways, of increasing complexity, to consider whether the approaches being used provide for patient-centred care and what improvements could be made.

'I will track whether patients remain on the pathway or are moved off for a time, whether they return or not, who makes those decisions, and what impact it has on the service.'

Sharon wants to find decoupling points where there should be an option to shift from a lean approach to something more agile. She thinks she may discover that some pathways need redesigning.

An exciting journey

Throughout the research, Sharon will record her learning to understand what works, when it works, how it works and why.

'I’m looking forward to a really exciting journey. I hope my work helps produce useful and accessible recommendations so that people who are leading on care pathway work, can pick up and use it to make genuine improvements for patients, staff and health care organisations.'