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Interview with Gary Kaplan
  1. J L Reinertsen
  1. Correspondence to:
 J L Reinertsen
 Leader of the Reinertsen Group in the US and Senior Fellow, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Cambridge, MA, USA; jim{at}

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Gary Kaplan became Chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason Medical Center (VMMC) in February 2000, which he describes as a “challenging time for the organization”. Finances were rocky, and physicians and staff were uneasy about the organization’s future. Six years later VMMC is financially stable, on the cutting edge of clinical innovation, and is often cited as a national leader in quality and safety (see table 1 for a snapshot of results).

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Table 1

 A sample of Virginia Mason Medical Center (VMMC) quality and safety results


JR: As you look back at your 6 years at the helm of VM, what are you most proud of?

GK: I think I’m most proud of the work of our teams every day to execute our strategic plan. That plan is all about putting the patient first and quality is the cornerstone of our entire strategic plan, not just one part of the plan. I’m proud that we’ve adopted a clear, simple vision—to be the quality leader—and, furthermore, that we’ve embraced a powerful method for getting to that vision—Lean Production, or the Toyota Production System. We call our method the Virginia Mason Production System (VMPS).

JR: When I talk with other healthcare leaders they often express amazement at the complete commitment you appear to have made to Lean. How did you come to bet the farm on this method?

GK: As we developed our vision and strategic plan, it became clear that our vision, goals, and organizational aspirations were very challenging. It was particularly daunting given the magnitude of change necessary to truly make a substantive difference for our patients in terms of quality and safety while simultaneously re-establishing economic stability. We looked around in health care and didn’t see anyone who seemed to have the answers and specifically a management …

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