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.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Organizations That Can’t Fall . . . Die on Their Feet

A not entirely unintended consequence of the various aspects of health care reform in the United States is the growing concentration of ownership of hospitals and physician organizations.  This is occurring because hospitals and doctors are predicting that they will be forced to take on a greater portion of the financial risk of patient care.  Creating larger networks is one strategy for dealing with this.  Larger networks provide more actuarial support, in terms of a diverse risk pool.  Also, by incorporating primary, secondary, and tertiary care into a network, the potential exists for more effective case management.  Finally, a larger market share is viewed as helpful in asserting leverage over the insurance companies.

I seek not to discuss in this post whether today's management cadre is capable of executing the business strategy of a system, as compared to a single hospital or physician group. While that is a topic worthy of discussion, my purpose today is to focus on broader issues.  In particular, let's explore the possibility that the growth of hospital networks can lead to such a reduction in competition that the result is one or more systems that are "too big to fail" in a given geographic area.  When firms reach this status in society, there can be dangerous ramifications.

My Israeli colleague Boaz Tamir (Israel Lean Enterprise) recently wrote about these dangers in a paper originally published in Hebrew.  I offer excerpts from an English translation here.  The discussion covers several types of industries, but there is a clear connection to the health care world that is evolving in the US. The title:

Organizations That Can’t Fall . . . Die on Their Feet

Here in the empty land, in the ebbing time
      We live and do not live, die and do not die.*

Does the fact that an organization’s fall is likely to shake the foundations of the economy and the society in which it operates justify preserving it at any price? When the central-bank commissioner prevents the bank’s collapse in the name of “banking stability,” does he take into account the damage this entails for how the bank is managed, for the market and the customers? Does the insurance supervisor who prevents the collapse of an insurance company really help the public of insured persons?

Is it not clear that no government would dare close a hospital even it slid into bankruptcy because of failures of corporate governance and administrative atrophy? But does anyone take into account the destructive effects of this premise on the possibility of correcting the defects of management and service, or on the number of patients who will die as a result of them?

The dream of managers, workers, suppliers, and financiers is to belong to an organization that cannot fall. Once they are part of such an organization their niche is guaranteed, along with the future of their families and associates. But what about the future of the customers who were forgotten—the insured, the patients, or the small households?

An organization that cannot fall lives inside a bubble. The price of its services is determined according to its operating costs, padded by its cost-plus. Such an organization, if it lacks a leader capable of working against the “force of gravity,” will naturally oppose any change, show no interest in developments in its environment, and fail to repair administrative failures or systems that have atrophied within it. When there are no mechanisms for seriously assessing its efficiency, nothing will lead management to insist on operational excellence, attract professionals and excellent workers, prevent waste, reduce hidden unemployment, and focus on creating value for the customers—the declared goal of an organization that operates in a competitive environment and is not immune to a fall. 

Any organization, from the moment its existence is not dependent on its customers, is like a body whose nervous system is impaired and has lost the sense of pain that was intended to protect it. It has no real impulse to streamline, upgrade its capacity, or create value for customers, who are seen as a nuisance instead of the source of its life. Therefore, the default option of such an organization is to atrophy from within. The mission, the goal, and the vision that led to its establishment are already faded memories that hang on the walls of the building’s entrance beside pictures of CEOs. 

The raison d’tre of an organization that cannot fall, that is maintained at any price even when it has gone hollow, is preservation of a body that lacks any vital sign of value for the customer, or in other words, preservation of the interests of the managers, the workers, the local authority, the ruling party, or the shareholders—everyone except its real customers, whose benefit was the original justification for its existence. Sadly, experience teaches that from the moment an organization is “sanctified” as an institution and cannot fall, the process of systemic atrophy cannot be reversed. Nor can the inflated results, unwieldiness, inflexibility, and damaged functioning.  

It is, though, an illusion to think that an organization that cannot fall has not died. Arriving at atrophy and systemic collapse, its end is to die on its feet. No one dares uproot this tree even when its fruits have long expired and its higher managerial levels have dried out. No one will dare proclaim the end of an organization that cannot fall even if it stands only as a silent monument—not even to make way for the growth of a young, na├»ve organization that seeks to justify its existence by achieving its goal: providing service to its customers.
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*"Here in the Land," from the book by Amir Or, Masah Meshugah, Keshev l’Shira, 2012 (in Hebrew).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Inspired at Children's Mercy Hospitals

I have visited dozens of hospitals over the past two years, spreading the gospel codified in the upper right-hand corner of this blog--patient-driven care, eliminating preventable harm, transparency of clinical outcomes, and front-line driven process improvement.  My audiences are invariably polite and engaged, and I try to leave them with a sense of the possibilities before them.  I know that some are inspired to take action, and some are not.  I sometimes wonder if I make a difference.  Is there a more useful way to spend my time?

And then I visit a place like Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and get a jolt of renewed energy and optimism.  And, lo and behold, they tell me that I help do the same for them.  What karma!

I had a jam-packed day at CMH today.  First, it was multidisciplinary Grand Rounds, with a presentation to several hundred people in the auditorium and outlying facilities.  Here's my host, Executive Vice President Karen Cox.  The theme:  "These Things Happen: How Harm Occurs in Hospitals and What We Can Do About It."

But then I got to see the team in action.  I attended the Daily Safety Update, a short (9:10-9:30am) huddle of people from throughout the hospital reporting on operational matters and other issues that could affect patient safety.  It is chaired by Jason Newland, medical director for safety, and Cheri Hunt, chief nursing officer (seen here).

One of the things that Lean organizations do is to promote and encourage standard work in clinical and operational settings.  But managers have to engage in standard work, too.  You may recall that Virginia Mason's COO, Sarah Patterson, explained this when she discussed important aspects of daily management: 

Elements of daily management = leader standard work + visual controls + daily accountability process + discipline.

Whoa! Leader standard work, too! What a concept. Can't be "too busy" for this!


With leader standard work made visible, staff now know, "Oh that's what leaders do!"


The CMH people have put this into place in a clear and effective way.  All participants in the meeting orally fill in the chart of a daily operational report covering key areas.  The reporting is efficient and direct, with areas of action set forth.  For example, Rachael Dameron (above) presented data on the total number of ventilators in use in the various units of the hospital, staff on site last night and today, and any key events.  Meanwhile Sherry McCool (below) reported on transport:  How many runs in the last 24 hours, how many missed runs, how many delayed runs, and anticipated concerns for the next 24 hours.

The Daily Safety Update has created precursor and following events.  Pre-huddles occur in the departments beforehand, so that the required data and status reports will be accurate.  After the 20 minute meeting, subgroups will often coalesce to follow up on issues raised during the huddle.

CMH is not the only hospital that engages in this kind of huddle, but the process they use is as effective as any I have seen.

The rest of my morning was spent with people who work on programs to increase patient involvement in the hospitals' delivery of care.  CMH has several family advisory boards, volunteers from the community who work with the hospital staff to help deliver more patient-centered care.  Here, for example, you see DeeJo Miller, a family centered care coordinator, with Terrance Gallagher, a patient's father, who volunteers his time on one such FAB.   DeeJo is one of the hospital's "parents on staff," paid people whose job functions include special attention to the needs of patients and families.


Among other things, DeeJo and her colleagues conduct educational programs for residents on the issue of patient- and family-centeredness.  One part of that curriculum is to send residents on in-home visits, to see patients and families in their real life settings.  She presented some verbatim reactions from some of the residents as their eyes were opened to life "out there."  Here's a small sample:

Thoughts or concerns prior to your visit:

Looking forward to seeing a family's house.  Dreading the fact that it was 2 hours.  I didn't really know what I was supposed to do.

Tell us about you in-home visit:

It was more laid back than expected.  the whole family was involved.  Mom stated at the beginning that there is "no wrong way to ask a question."  Helpful to talk to the sibling.

What strengths did you see in the family?

Amazing support among the siblings.  "Supervised independence"--The parents let the daughter manage her diabetes; however, they always check on her and double check what she is doing.  They do it in such a discreet way the daughter may not even realize that they are checking on her.

What surprised you the most?

Daughter was insulted by the doctor's attempt to equate her insulin pump to video game Mario Cart.  She said it was "cheesy."  High functioning children--they were more adult-like than kid-like.  Don't remember what life was like before the diagnosis.  child's openness, how much she knew and verbalized what she didn't want to talk about.  Child's attitude mimicked Mom's attitude.  The normalcy of it all. 

What, if any, is the value of meeting in the home versus meeting somewhere else?

Made me think about the difference between just telling a family what to do and realizing how much work it takes to follow the instructions.  Makes you think more about making sure that the family has what they need for home.

I sat admiringly through all these sessions, which demonstrated a thoughtful execution of the principles I mentioned at the start of this blog post.  But I was even more impressed by the constant, "What do you think of this?"  "Can we do it better?", questioning I received from the staff as the day went along.  This is a group of people who are discontented with the status quo, who are modest about what they know and what they have accomplished, and who insist on getting better.  I was told later than my visit gave them a shot in the arm, a reminder of what is possible, but it was actually they who did that for me.  What a marvelous day with marvelous people!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Leaning at Mt. Scopus

I am in Jerusalem and joined with a colleague to conduct a couple of workshops for senior managers and physicians on the basics of Lean process improvement.  As I have noted before, the introduction of Lean into a hospital or any other complex organization is not something to be undertaken lightly.  Lean is not something you do, like a short-term project.  It requires a tremendous commitment on the part of the leadership, extensive training, and the patience to spend years on infusing the Lean philosophy throughout the organization.

Today's workshops at the Mt. Scopus campus of Hadassah Medical Organization were therefore meant to be introductory in nature.  We started with the excellent Toast Kaizen video produced by Bruce Hamilton of GBMP.  Using the seemingly simple preparation of toast in the domestic setting, Bruce demonstrates the various types of waste that occur in organizations.  He helps viewers see these forms of waste in a way that is elegant and simple.

We followed with two simulation games that are designed to teach a couple of aspects of Lean techniques and approaches.  The first game is intended to teach the value of the 5S  system of reorganizing spatial settings.  Students are given sets of numbers in different patterns and ask to perform functions with them.  The process gets easier and more accurate as they apply the steps of 5S improvement: (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain).  As you can see below, our game provokes lots of laughter and engagement.  We seek to break down the defensive barriers to learning as we use non-work-related examples to teach the principles that can then be applied in the workplace.


The second game was designed to teach the difference between batch and continuous flow processes.  While there is a place for both in organizations, there is a tendency for hospitals to create batch processing where continuous flow processing might be more effective in serving customers and in enhancing the work environment.  Our group was divided into two teams, one performing a series of tasks (fold paper, stuff envelope, address envelope, stamp envelope) in a flow pattern and one doing the same in a batch process.  The frustration of the staff involved in the later stages of the batch process--as they awaited the work to arrive to them--was palpable, as you can see below!  Lesson learned.