Tag Archives: health care system

Burning Toast: American Health System Style

Democrats and Republicans have created a health care system in the USA over the last 40 years that “burns toast” at an alarming rate. As the symptoms of their health care system are displayed they call in people to blame for burning toast.

Their participation in the “you burn, I’ll scrape” system is even worse than the normal burning then scraping process. They create a bad system over decades and ignore the burnt toast just telling people to put up with it. And when some burnt toast can’t be ignored any longer they then blame individuals for each piece of burnt toast.

They demand that those they bring before them to blame, scrape off the burnt toast. And they act shocked that the “toaster” burns toast. It is the same “toaster” they designed and maintain at the behest of those benefiting from burnt toast and of course it burns toast (those results are the natural outcome of the system they designed and maintain).

We need to fix the decades old broken toaster that the Democrats and Republicans built and have maintained. Dr. Deming called excessive healthcare costs a deadly disease decades ago yet Democrats and Republicans allowed it to continue harming us year after year and decade after decade.

We don’t need distractions blaming a few individual for what the two parties have created and maintained for decades. We need leaders to address the real issues and stop the distraction that those benefiting from the current system want to continue to see from those in Washington.

You don’t fix the system if all you do is blame individuals for each piece of burnt toast. Fixing blame on each piece of burnt toast is exactly what those that have continued to make sure the system is designed to continually burn toast love to see. It is a good way to make sure the fixes needed to the design of the toaster are not addressed. Both political parties have done well by those they receive payments from to ensure that the current toaster isn’t changed.

For decades the data shows the USA health care system costs are nearly double that of other rich countries with no better results. And we are not comparing to some perfect ideal, those efforts we compare to need much improvement themselves. So how bad much the USA health care system be to cost nearly twice as much as those systems that have plenty of room for improvement themselves?

Related: EpiPen Maker Also Hiked Prices on a Slew of Other MedicationsUSA Health-Care System Ranks 50th out of 55 CountriesDrug Prices in the USA, a system continually burning toast (2005)USA Heath Care System Needs Reform (2009)2015 Health Care Price Report – Costs in the USA and Elsewhere

Visual Management and Mistake-Proofing for Prescription Pills

Good ideas often just require some sensible thought to think of an improved approach. Management concepts can help guide such thinking, such as mistake-proofing and visual management.

To apply visual management requires giving a bit of thought to how to make visually obvious what is important for people to know. Mistake proofing is often really mistake-making-more-difficult (for some reason this term of mine hasn’t caught on).

prescription pills packaged together

Image from PillPack, they provide a service to deliver packages based on your prescriptions.

I believe mistake-proofing should put barriers in the process that make a mistake hard. Often what is called mistake-proofing doesn’t really fit that definition. The pill package shown above for example, doesn’t prevent you from continuing past the time on the package (Monday at 8AM) without taking the pills.

To call it mistake-proofing I would like to see something that makes it harder to make the mistake of failing to take the pills: something that blocks progress beyond that time without taking the pills.

Even something as simple as an alert to your smart phone that gets your attention and doesn’t allow the smart phone to be used without indicating you have taken the pills would reach the “mistake-proofing” level in my opinion (for someone that has their phone with them at all times). The Apple Watch could be a good tool to use in this case. Even so those wouldn’t make mistakes impossible (you can say you took the pills even if you didn’t, the phone/watch may lose power…). It would depend on the situation; this smart phone/watch solution is not going to be good for some people.

Another idea is that these pill packages should be tied to the room (in a hospital) and at home if a home care nurse (or even family or others) are responsible for assuring the pills are taken with a big display that perhaps 30 minutes before the pill is due posts a message that says “pills to be taken at 8 AM” and once that time is past it could become more obvious, perhaps after 15 minutes it produces an audio alert. The actual solutions are going to be better from those that know the actual situation than someone like me just thinking up stuff as I type.

But the idea is pretty simple: when you have processes that are important and at risk of failure, design processes with elements to make mistakes hard (and ideas such as mistake-proofing and visual management can help you guide your mind to ways to create better processes).

The entire process needs to be considered. The pill packages are nice, because even in failure modes they provide good feedback: you may still fail to take them at the right time, but you can look at the location where the pill packages are kept and see
if any have a time before right now (in which case you can follow the medical guidance – take the pills right now, contact the doctor, or whatever that advice is). Of course even that isn’t foolproof, you could have put the package into your purse and it is still sitting in their but you forgot.

Still the pill packages seem like a good mistake-making-more-difficult solution. And it seems to me that process has room to make mistakes even more difficult (using a smartphone addition, for example).

Continual improvement requires a continual focus on the process and the end user for ways to increase reliability and value. Each process in question should have engaged people with the proper skills and freedom to act using their knowledge to address weakness in the current process that are most critical.

Failure to take prescriptions as directed in a common problem in health care. Knowing this should make those involved in the process think of how they can use concepts, such as mistake-proofing, to improve the results of the system.

Too often to much focus is on making better pills compared to the effort is put into how to improve results with simple concepts such as visual management and mistake-proofing.

Each small improvement contributes to creating a more robust and effective process. And engaged people should continually access how the containing systems, new processes and new capabilities may allow more small steps to provide value to those relying on your products and services.

Related: Great Visual Instruction Example for Taking PillsVisual Management with Brown M&MsQuick Mistake Proofing Ideas for Preventing Date Entry Error

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USA Spent $2.6 Trillion, $8,402 per person,17.9% of GDP on Medical Expenses in 2010

Total health expenditures in the USA in 2010 reached $2.6 trillion, $8,402 per person or 17.9% percent of GDP. All these are all time highs. Every year, for decades, health care costs have taken a larger and larger portion of the economic value created in the USA.

In 2009 the USA Spent Record $2.5 Trillion, $8,086 per person 17.6% of GDP on Medical Care.

USA health care spending grew 3.9% in 2010 following an increase of 3.8% in 2009. While those are the two slowest rates of growth in the 51 year history of the National Health Expenditure Accounts, they still outpaced both inflation and GDP growth. So yet again the health system expenses are taking a bigger portion of overall spending. This has been going on so long that the USA spends double what many other rich countries do on healthcare with no better results.

As a result of failing to address this issue for decades the problem is huge and will likely take decades to bring back just to a level where the burden on those in the USA, due to their broken health care system, is equal to the burden of other rich countries. Over 2 decades ago the failure in the health care system reached epidemic proportions but little has been done to deal with the systemic failures. Dr. Deming pointed to excessive health care cost, back then, as one of 7 deadly diseases facing American business. The fact that every year costs have increased more than GDP growth and outcome measures are no better than other rich countries shows the performance has been very poor. The disease is doing even more harm today.

Some good things have been done over the years, most notably by Don Berwick while at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. He was effectively thrown out of office by the politicians recently. The same politicians that have through decades of such foolish acts contributed more than any other group to the broken health care system that burdens the USA today. In the last 10 years a significant amount of good work has also been done in “lean healthcare”: applying lean thinking to healthcare. But it is similar to the quote that a “bad system will beat a good person.” With all the bad systemic issues the efforts, good as they are, in lean healthcare are mainly improving around the edges. Of course, “around the edges” of a $2.6 Trillion dollar system can still be extremely valuable and important.

Related: USA Heath Care System Needs ReformUSA Spends Record $2.3 trillion ($7,681 Per Person) on Health Care in 2008Systemic Health Care Failure: Small Business CoverageMeasuring the Health of NationsHow to improve the health care system performanceManagement Improvement in HealthcareUSA Spent $2.2 Trillion, 16.2% of GDP, on Health Care in 2007

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More Reasons to Avoid Layoffs

Lay Off the Layoffs by Jeffrey Pfeffer

As its former head of human resources once told me: “If people are your most important assets, why would you get rid of them?”

In fact, there is a growing body of academic research suggesting that firms incur big costs when they cut workers. Some of these costs are obvious, such as the direct costs of severance and outplacement, and some are intuitive, such as the toll on morale and productivity as anxiety (“Will I be next?”) infects remaining workers.

research paints a fairly consistent picture: layoffs don’t work. And for good reason. In Responsible Restructuring, University of Colorado professor Wayne Cascio lists the direct and indirect costs of layoffs: severance pay; paying out accrued vacation and sick pay; outplacement costs; higher unemployment-insurance taxes; the cost of rehiring employees when business improves; low morale and risk-averse survivors; potential lawsuits, sabotage, or even workplace violence from aggrieved employees or former employees; loss of institutional memory and knowledge; diminished trust in management; and reduced productivity.

As bad as the effects of layoffs are on companies and the economy, perhaps the biggest damage is done to the people themselves. Here the consequences are, not surprisingly, devastating. Layoffs literally kill people. In the United States, when you lose your job, you lose your health insurance, unless you can afford to temporarily maintain it under the pricey COBRA provisions. Studies consistently show a connection between not having health insurance and individual mortality rates.

Related: Five Managerial Fallacies Concerning Layoffs – Honda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every YearThe Trouble with Performance Reviews by Jeffrey PfefferCutting Hours Instead of PeopleFiring Workers Isn’t Fixing Problems

Systemic Health Care Failure: Small Business Coverage

There are many significant problems with the medical care system in the USA. It makes sense that a system that costs over 50% more than other countries and has no better outcomes, from all that extra spending, suffers from many failures. Coverage for small business is one of the problems we face now – When Health Insurers Dump Small Companies:

In June testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, Potter said insurers “dump small businesses whose employees’ medical claims exceed what insurance underwriters expected. All it takes is one illness or accident among employees at a small business to prompt an insurance company to hike the next year’s premiums so high that the employer has to cut benefits, shop for another carrier, or stop offering coverage altogether – leaving workers uninsured.”

Joy Mosley, COO of Biotest Laboratories, a 77-person medical testing company in Minneapolis, recently got such a “requote” from her insurer, Medica, after an employee was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Medica covered the million-dollar treatment, but then said the large claim warranted $156,000 in additional premiums – a 72% increase.

Not all entrepreneurs are equally vulnerable. About a dozen states prohibit insurers from basing premiums for businesses with 50 or fewer employees on workers’ health status. But in roughly three-fourths of the country, so-called ratings bands allow for considerable flexibility in pricing. In states with loose ratings bands, such as Texas and Nevada, one small company can be charged nearly 70% more than another. In Pennsylvania and Virginia, there are no ratings restrictions. No matter what state you’re in, ratings bands don’t apply to companies with more than 50 employees.

Just from an insurance perspective the companies are not providing what is needed. They are quick to say you can’t have healthy people remain uncovered and wait to buy insurance once for example, “their house is on fire” (they are sick). They are right. Well you also can’t have the insurance company cancel coverage during the fire and have a system that works.
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Blame the Road – Not the Person

The system is responsible for 90, 92, 94, 97% of problems – W. Edwards Deming. Fix the system, don’t blame the people. When you seek system fixes you approach situations differently than if you search for people to blame.

By the way, I am often asked about the data supporting Deming’s contention that the system was responsible for 97% of the problems. This statement was not based on a set of data but on Dr. Deming’s decades of experience. And he increased the percentage over time – as he learned more.

Roads that are designed to kill

Half blamed the runner, saying she should not have been running in the street at that hour. Half blamed the driver, for not paying close enough attention. Not a single writer blamed the road.

Your streets are designed to kill people.

Vision Zero started about 30 years ago, when traffic safety researcher Claes Tingvall got the idea that we didn’t have to accept road traffic deaths as a fact of life. Tingvall and his colleagues said that these deaths were not “accidents’’ but were predictable and preventable. And they set out to prove it.

One of the ways they began to protect people was to put barriers down the center of two-lane roads. They showed that this could be done cheaply. When Mylar – a strong polyester film – is supported by closely spaced plastic poles, it can keep cars from crossing the median. When the Swedes used this type of center barrier to separate the traffic going in opposite directions, they effectively prevented head-on collisions and the death rate on these roads fell by 70 percent to 80 percent.

Global health research shows more improvements can save lives. For example, Ghana put in rumble strips – small bumps spaced closely together – across all the roads leading into the capital city of Accra, reducing fatalities by 35 percent. Research has shown that speed bumps on roads are one of the “best buys” in all of global health.

Most people think we are doing all that can be done to keep our roads safe. They are wrong. Road traffic injuries kill more than a million people a year worldwide, including 40,000 a year in the United States.

Is a situation killing 40,000 people in the USA a year a health care issue? It sure seems to me it would be. It probably isn’t a disease management issue though (some might try to say bad roads are a disease but I wouldn’t say that). I think this is one, of many examples, that shows that we have a disease and injury management system not a health care system (in addition to illustrating systems thinking, effective root cause analysis, PDSA, innovation, respect for people…).

Related: Find the Root Cause Instead of the Person to BlameTraffic Congestion and a Non-SolutionChecklists Save LivesSaving Lives: US Health Care ImprovementThe Economic Benefits of Walkable CommunitiesSWAT Raid Signs of Systemic FailuresSystem Improvement to Respond to the Dynamics of Crowd DisastersThe Leading Causes of Death

Community Medical Care Successes

The Cost Conundrum by Atul Gawande, New Yorker (The Power of a Checklist was published there in 2007 by the same author)

For example, Rochester, Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic dominates the scene, has fantastically high levels of technological capability and quality, but its Medicare spending is in the lowest fifteen per cent of the country—$6,688 per enrollee in 2006, which is eight thousand dollars less than the figure for McAllen. Two economists working at Dartmouth, Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, found that the more money Medicare spent per person in a given state the lower that state’s quality ranking tended to be. In fact, the four states with the highest levels of spending—Louisiana, Texas, California, and Florida—were near the bottom of the national rankings on the quality of patient care.

I talked to Denis Cortese, the C.E.O. of the Mayo Clinic, which is among the highest-quality, lowest-cost health-care systems in the country. A couple of years ago, I spent several days there as a visiting surgeon. Among the things that stand out from that visit was how much time the doctors spent with patients. There was no churn—no shuttling patients in and out of rooms while the doctor bounces from one to the other. I accompanied a colleague while he saw patients. Most of the patients, like those in my clinic, required about twenty minutes. But one patient had colon cancer and a number of other complex issues, including heart disease. The physician spent an hour with her, sorting things out. He phoned a cardiologist with a question.

“I’ll be there,” the cardiologist said. Fifteen minutes later, he was. They mulled over everything together. The cardiologist adjusted a medication, and said that no further testing was needed. He cleared the patient for surgery, and the operating room gave her a slot the next day.

The whole interaction was astonishing to me. Just having the cardiologist pop down to see the patient with the surgeon would be unimaginable at my hospital. The time required wouldn’t pay. The time required just to organize the system wouldn’t pay.

The core tenet of the Mayo Clinic is “The needs of the patient come first”—not the convenience of the doctors, not their revenues. The doctors and nurses, and even the janitors, sat in meetings almost weekly, working on ideas to make the service and the care better, not to get more money out of patients. I asked Cortese how the Mayo Clinic made this possible.

“It’s not easy,” he said. But decades ago Mayo recognized that the first thing it needed to do was eliminate the financial barriers. It pooled all the money the doctors and the hospital system received and began paying everyone a salary, so that the doctors’ goal in patient care couldn’t be increasing their income. Mayo promoted leaders who focussed first on what was best for patients, and then on how to make this financially possible.

No one there actually intends to do fewer expensive scans and procedures than is done elsewhere in the country. The aim is to raise quality and to help doctors and other staff members work as a team. But, almost by happenstance, the result has been lower costs. [actually the Deming Chain Reaction] Continue reading

CEOs Want Health-Care Reform

Decades ago Dr. Deming emphasized the deadly disease of excessive health care costs in the USA. Since then, year after year, the situation has become worse (reaching $2.2 trillion in spending in 2007 – 16.2% of GDP). During that time senior executives has put forth very little serious effort (in comparison to the huge cost) to fix this problem. Finally, in the last few years, more and more senior executives are actively moving to address the ever worsening crisis (including, Howard Schultz, CEO at Starbucks).

They seem to be realizing that hoping the problem will just fix itself is not a great strategy. Finally senior executives are realizing they need to have the government address the systemic failures. Those executives need to keep up their efforts because those seeking to retain the system that doesn’t work, because they personally benefit from it, have been doing a great job of preventing progress for decades. Until a critical mass of senior executives demand change from Washington the chance of improving the relative performance of the USA health system in comparison to other countries is very bleak (we have just been getting more expensive and less effective [relative to other countries] over time).

CEOs Secretly Want Health-Care Reform

Carl T. Camden, CEO of Kelly Services (KELYA). Managing insurance for his vast, geographically dispersed workforce of temporary workers is horrendously expensive, he complains: “My health-care costs total more than my profits.”

But in private, “CEOs overwhelmingly want out of this business,” says Benjamin Sasse, an Assistant Secretary of Health & Human Services under President George W. Bush who’s now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “They just do not want to be seen as more willing to dump [benefits] than their competitors are.” Sasse says many CEOs he has talked with would even pay a new tax if it got them out of the insurance business.

Related: Many Experts Say Health-Care System Inefficient, WastefulArticles on Improving the Healthcare systemApplying Disruptive Thinking to the Healthcare CrisisOur Failed Health-care System
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ER Checklist

The popular ER TV show highlighted the importance of using checklists in surgery yesterday.

Such powerful quality tools, like the checklist, are just waiting to be used. But far too many fail to use these simple improvement tools. And in health care those failures are potentially critical.

Related: Checklists Save LivesThe Power of a Checklistmanagement improvement dictionaryArticles on Improving the Health Care System

Applying Disruptive Thinking to the Healthcare Crisis

Update: Sadly MIT delete the video. It is a shame educational institutions lose interest in knowledge just a couple years later. Thankfully we didn’t have to rely on the people deleting web content at universities to keep all the historical content we have in books from hundreds of years ago. I think it is a huge lose to what the mission of these schools should be but that attitude doesn’t seem to be shared by the schools.

The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution to the Healthcare Crisis:

Christensen spies symptoms of such disruptions bubbling up in the healthcare industry, such as molecular diagnostics, imaging technologies and high bandwidth telecom, and business model innovations. Integrated health systems like Kaiser Permanente have a leg up in deploying and optimizing these disruptive technologies.

The push for widespread healthcare reform must come from employers, who in spite of their declared intent to cut healthcare costs also know “they profit when their employees are healthy and productive.” Affordable healthcare, he concludes, “doesn’t come by expecting high end, expensive institutions or expensive caregivers to become cheap, but by bringing technology to lower cost providers and venues of care, so they can become more capable.”

Clayton Christensen is the rare management thinker that I feel real provides profound insights into thinking about management. There are many other good management thinkers that offer valuable idea, just most of them (in my opinion) really are presenting material in ways that offer managers a good way to take action on all the long known good management ideas that we fail to adopt successful for decades.
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