Developing lean and agile health care supply chains

Håkan Aronsson (Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden)
Mats Abrahamsson (Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden)
Karen Spens (Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Publication date: 3 May 2011



The objective of this exploratory paper is to find out what is important to consider when developing a supply chain in health care, what is required in order to establish a supply chain orientation and how lean and agile can be used as process strategies in order to improve supply chain performance.


In order to build an empirical framework for using both lean and agile strategies in health care supply chain management illustrative examples are provided from a Swedish health care setting describing the patient flow and planning processes.


Supply chain management has potential to work well as a philosophy for patient flow in the health care sector. However, it should not only be about the use of the concept of lean in health care, as in fact is the case in practice today. It is rather about organizing for quick response and flexibility in a hybrid strategy through combining lean and agile process strategies. This can only be done if a systems approach is applied together with a strategic orientation, where cooperative efforts by the supply chain members should synchronize and converge operational as well as strategic capabilities into a unified whole.

Practical implications

The analysis in the paper underlines the importance of focusing on both agility and leanness combined. Hospitals or health care systems that introduce such an approach, as opposed to only relying on lean strategies, could gain both competitive advantages and improved performance.


In health care, even more so than in the manufacturing industry, containment of costs without sacrificing quality is important. This paper applies SCM techniques, tools and concepts that have not been used previously for patient flow in a health care setting, combining lean and agile in one and the same analysis.



Aronsson, H., Abrahamsson, M. and Spens, K. (2011), "Developing lean and agile health care supply chains", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 176-183.

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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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