But take a look anyway, if you have an interest in process improvement in hospitals. This is a collection of my best posts on this topic.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two stories about transparency

Here are a couple of stories about transparency of clinical outcomes. I present them for your review and comment.

The first is one from the Los Angeles Times, entitled "'Error-free' hospitals scrutinized." Here are some excerpts:

California public health officials are scrutinizing hospitals that claim to be error-free, questioning whether nearly 90 facilities have gone more than three years without any significant mistakes in care.

Eighty-seven hospitals — more than 20% of the 418 hospitals covered under a law that took effect in 2007 — have made no reports of medical errors, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The high percentage has raised concerns that errors have gone unreported. Some patient advocates say it is an indication that hospitals are unwilling to police themselves. State officials have given hospitals until Tuesday to verify their records as error-free or to report errors, as required by law.

Next, a report from The Health Foundation in the United Kingdom. Martin Marshall, Clinical Director and Director of Research and Development, and the late Vin McLoughlin, Director of Quality Performance and Analysis, have published a paper called, "How might patients use information comparing the performance of health service providers?" It is on the BMJ website. They note:

There is a growing body of evidence . . . describing what happens when comparative information about the quality of care and the performance of health services is placed in the public domain. The findings from research conducted over the last 20 years in a number of different countries are reasonably consistent and provide little support for the belief that most patients behave in a consumerist fashion as far as their health is concerned. Whilst patients are clear that they want information to be made publicly available, they rarely search for it, often do not understand or trust it, and the vast majority of people are unlikely to use it in a rational way to choose ‘the best provider’. The evidence suggests that the public reporting of comparative data does seem to play a limited role in improving quality but the underlying mechanism is reputational concern on the part of providers, rather than direct market-based competition driven by service users.

. . . How should policy makers, managers and clinicians respond to these findings? Some might be tempted to suggest that we should focus only on those who work in the health service and discount patients as important stakeholders. We believe that this would be wrong. The public has a clear right to know how well their health system is working, irrespective of whether they want to use the information in an instrumentalist way. Improving the relevance and accessibility of the data should be seen as a good thing in its own right and may start to engage a large number of people in the future.

. . . That patients might want to view health as something other than a commodity presents a conceptual as well as a practical challenge to those responsible for designing and producing comparative performance information. We suggest that for the foreseeable future presenting high quality information to patients should be seen as having the softer and longer term benefit of creating a new dynamic between patients and providers, rather than one with the concrete and more immediate outcome of directly driving improvements in quality of care.

Sign congestion

Sometimes, with "new eyes," you see things you walk by every day. As I went to visit a sick friend yesterday, not as the hospital CEO but just a visitor, here was the scene I found at the elevator in one of our main lobbies.

Each one of these signs was likely added for good reason. But, in combination, they are problematic -- too cluttered.

Also, they are not culturally competent. The blue sign on the left has several languages. None of the others do.

Perhaps it is time for a Lean rapid improvement event about our signs.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

En route to True North

"True North" is a key concept in Lean process improvement. It might be viewed as a mission statement, a reflection of the purpose of the organization, and the foundation of a strategic plan.

Here are illustrative thoughts from two observers:

The "ideal vision" or "True North" is not metrics so much as a sense of an ideal process to strive for. It sets a direction, and provides a way to focus discussion on how to solve the problems vs. whether to try.

If we don't know where we're going, we will never get there. "True North" expresses business needs that must be achieved and exerts a magnetic pull. True North is a contract, a bond, and not merely a wish list.

Lean is inherently the most democratic of work place philosophies, relying on empowerment of front-line staff to call out problems. The definition of True North, however, does not rely on that same democratic approach. Instead, it is established by the leadership of the organization.

At BIDMC, we have been engaged in a slow and steady approach to adoption of Lean. Our actions have been intentionally characterized by "Tortoise not Hare," as we methodically train one another, carry out rapid improvement events, and integrate the Lean philosophy into our design of work. As you have seen on this blog, staff members have come to embrace Lean and have used it in a variety of clinical and administrative settings.

(For more examples, enter "Lean" in the search box above. I have been presenting them here for some time in the hope that they would be useful to those in other hospitals who are thinking of adopting this approach.)

We have intentionally not, until now, tried to define True North, but things have now progressed sufficiently in terms of our application of the Lean philosophy that the organization is crying out for it. This is just as we had hoped. Establishment of True North before this time, i.e., without an understanding of its role, would not have been as useful in our hospital.

So, the clinical and administrative leaders recently met to try to nail this down. The process is not over. Indeed, our Board of Directors has yet to pitch in and offer their thoughts. But, we are far enough along that I thought you would enjoy seeing the draft.

Here it is:

BIDMC will care for patients the way we want members of our own families to be treated, while advancing humanity's ability to alleviate human suffering caused by disease. We will provide the right care in the right environment and at the right time, eliminating waste and maximizing value.

Here is some commentary to help you interpret and deconstruct this. The first sentence is based on the long-standing tradition of our two antecedent institutions, the New England Deaconess Hospital and the Beth Israel Deaconess hospital. The late doctor Richard Gaintner used to refer to the Deaconess as, "A place where science and kindliness unite in combating disease." That could just as well have been applied to the BI. As an academic medical center, our public service mission of clinical care is enhanced by -- and enhances -- our research and education programs. Our mission is to help humanity, not just the people who live in our catchment area.

The second sentence is offered in realization that the Ptolemaic view of tertiary hospitals as the center of the universe is no longer apt (if it ever was!) We need to view ourselves as being in service to primary care doctors, community hospitals, and other community-based parts of the health care delivery system.

On another level, it is also reflective of the fact that society expects us to be more efficient both within our own walls and in cooperation with our clinical partners, adopting approaches to work that do not waste societal resources.

In contradistinction to what I just said about this not being a democratically established statement, I offer our draft to you -- both those within BIDMC and worldwide -- for your criticism and suggestions. I don't know of other places that engage in this form of crowd-sourcing with regard to True North, but readers of this blog are unusually informed about health care matters, and I welcome your observations.