PBS Documentary: Improving Hospitals

Clare Crawford-Mason and Llyod Dobyns have teamed up on a new documentary. Previously they created If Japan Can-Why Can’t We? and the Deming Library Tapes.

Good News – How Hospitals Heal Themselves (broken link was removed)
A One-Hour Documentary Airing on Public Television Spring/Summer 2006
Reported by Former NBC Anchor Lloyd Dobyns

This rare good news documentary reports on a surprising solution to escalating costs, unnecessary deaths and waste in America’s hospitals. Doctors and nurses tell how they did their best, working overtime, while hospital conditions worsened. They were delighted to learn a new way to improve patient care dramatically and reduce unnecessary deaths, suffering, errors, infections and costs without additional resources or government regulations.

A patient is not an automobile, but…
The unlikely solution was to use Toyota management principles (systems thinking, lean thinking, TPS) to improve their hospitals. Systems thinking allows leaders and staff to see the complex, modern workplace with “new eyes” and turn problems into improvements. It has saved up to 50 percent in costs, thousands of lives, and avoided hundreds of thousands of medical errors. Significant improvements have already begun in hospitals in several major cities.

A companion how-to book, The Nun and the Bureaucrat-How They Found an Unlikely Cure for America’s Sick Hospitals: an excerpt is available from managementwisdom.com (no longer live). “If you think that hospital care cannot be significantly improved in quality and cost, you have another think coming. Read this book.” – Russell Ackoff

The documentary also describes America’s deadly healthcare problem in detail for the first time on television:

The Problem

  • Doctors, nurses and administrators reveal the dangerous conditions of American hospitals, and
  • How the patient became lost in modern hospitals.

The Solution

  • How staff put patient care and safety first and quickly began to reduce waste and improve clinical outcomes;
  • How the reporting of errors and potential errors significantly increased and enabled better patient care when hospital administrators ceased focusing on blame; and
  • An MD administrator predicts these new methods will solve the malpractice crisis.

The documentary reports on SSM Health Care system with 20 hospitals and 21,000 employees across the Midwest and a Pittsburgh initiative involving more than 40 hospitals. In 1989 SSM CEO Sister Mary Jean Ryan began to adopt methods developed by Americans in the l950’s to help Japanese industry. She also used the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria to teach systems ideas.

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who raised safety and profits dramatically at Alcoa, when he was that company’s CEO, using Toyota automobile manufacturing methods, introduced these ideas in l997 to the Pittsburgh hospitals with equally significant results.

No outside funds were required. Not incidentally, these hospitals leaders and staffs have done what the American automobile makers were not able to sustain as they tried such systems methods in the l980s. The automakers abandoned these ideas for short-term profits, and currently are suffering huge, possibly fatal, losses while Japanese car manufacturers prosper. Systems management can be used to make any organization from a hospital, school, government agency, manufacturing plant–even an entire nation–more effective, efficient, and competitive.

Contact your local PBS station (link removed as it is not longer relevant) for time of broadcast.


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