Back from the Second Annual Summit on Transparency; What’d I Learn?

In case you missed it, last week was the Second Annual Transparency Summit in Washington, a fabulous wonk sprint of two and a half days on all things transparent and emergent in health care transformation. While these conferences are always biased toward the true believers of the concept in the conference title, I left with a number of insights:
• Transparency of what, and to whom? While we tend to think of transparency as consumer information, just as critical is transparency of measurement and judgment for providers. My friend Michael Van Duren from Sutter likes to say, “In what other situation would you tell an employee, ‘your performance is bad. Fix it, despite the fact that neither you nor I have any idea how.’ That constitutes employee abuse, and it’s exactly what we do with physicians when we give them feedback most of the time.” We need more transparent and actionable information to providers to drive real delivery system change, the kind that Michael gives to his docs at Sutter all the time.
• Most at the conference agreed that increasing transparency in an opaque market is one of the reasons we should hope that health care reform might be effective. But as we teased out the nuances, it dawned on many of us that likely transparency is going to be necessary but not sufficient. The “last mile problem”, translating information into knowledge that drives action by both consumers and providers, may be emerging as the bigger, hairier human behavior problem twin to the technical problem of data massage into information. There were many examples during the conference. In one breakout session, my OB friend Neel Shah told the audience that studies show that most women want more information, but very few actually seek it out and use it in their conversations with providers. A patient spoke eloquently on the subject in the same session: “Patients don’t have the provider’s knowledge, so don’t know what to dignify in the room by asking about it. They fear looking stupid, and so they don’t ask. But what you don’t know is, while you can’t measure how I feel, it is the most important thing to me once you tell me I have a serious illness.” Even if we make clinical information more transparent as we are doing, what do we need to do to correct for the traditional sociologic factors that stifle real dialogue at the point of care?
• A fascinating emergent area, sorely needed, is patient-generated data. Prior to the conference, I thought of that mostly as people stopping to enter something on a kiosk after a clinical encounter, or responding to a survey online like you might do after a plane flight. What speakers at the conference were saying, though, was that much more data is going to be generated passively by patients through the onboard computers they carry on their phones. In addition to getting the subjective sense of an encounter through satisfaction surveys, much more info may come through Fitbits and Apple Health apps that monitor multiple personal factors automatically, without conscious thought by the individual. The metaphoric stick figures we draw right now may become much more sophisticated representations in the near future. The additional pixels to take them to high-definition will come through this automated data generation. In retrospect, this seems so obvious. Anything that requires my attention span is limited by that span’s availability. Competition for that commodity goes up daily. Much easier to get data where the only thing I have to do is walk around with my smartphone.
• Population health or individual experience? Answer: yes, and yes. While we are quite focused on population health these days, this concept can very easily and unknowingly become a goal opposed to individual experience. Fellow panelist Dominick Frosch described such an example. When we demand that patients come in for a screening colonoscopy as the only option to reduce colon cancer risk, we may scare off a significant percentage of the population who would do a stool test that is inferior as a screen, but is still way better than nothing. What we may not recognize is that the way we measure adequate colon Ca screening may dictate that rigid provider approach: if she doesn’t get the colonoscopy done, the primary care provider gets “dinged” in her system or health plan for not doing an adequate screen. And yet it’s what an informed patient, weighing her individual risk and benefit, has chosen for herself. In the future, metrics may become more mass customized to individual risks/characteristics/benefits/preferences. Why? Because computers allow us to do so, and individuals demand it be so in an increasingly mass customized world.
Finally, the most important transparency may be transparency of humanity. What became painfully obvious over and over again during the conference is people can’t hear and use any of the flood of information coming their way until they trust the people in the transaction. Whether that’s a routine office physical in which a provider offers a screening colonoscopy, or a crash situation after a major motor vehicle accident injury, feeling some common humanity between providers and patients is critical to the real dialogue many of us feel is at the core of value-based decision-making. A friend who is a cancer survivor once told me, “what I needed in a provider is someone who could say, ‘in your situation, this is the option I would choose with the least regret.’” We all crave to be cared for when we cannot care for ourselves by people who recognize and address our humanity, and share theirs with us. This desire is embedded in us deeply, in areas of the brain far below conscious thought, and it is these same areas that rule our behavior in important decisions. Allowing ourselves to be human as providers and patients together gives us the best chance to choose wisely, and live without regret. I’d say those are two really worthy goals.

March 25, 2015 at 10:57 AM Leave a comment

The Institute for Healthcare Quality, Safety, and Efficiency at the University of Colorado Hospitals

I recently attended a graduation of sorts, from something called the Institute for Healthcare Quality, Safety, and Efficiency at the University of Colorado Hospitals. What I saw was dozens of people organized into several teams. Each team was from a different hospital unit, and each team had a project to improve quality, safety, and efficiency for its respective unit. They had used Lean and other methodologies to identify root causes, implement changes, and measuring the effect of those changes. If you’re from another industry, none of this sounds at all unusual. If you are from health care, you recognize that this is terribly unusual. In fact, this was only the second graduating class for the Institute.
Such training is old hat in many other industries, especially manufacturing. A friend who runs a health care systems engineering school tells me that one of the reasons he’d shifted into health care is that traditional industry is saturated with process improvement engineers, and there are no new opportunities for his graduates there. However, the use of industrial engineering methods in health care is relatively recent, particularly on the scale to which IHQSE aspires for its institution.
There are many possible reasons for this slow adoption, but some would argue that one of them is that process improvement hasn’t been profitable in health care under current payment systems. It simply doesn’t fit with the business model. If one is paid for activity, reducing activity through improved efficiency reduces revenue. So why would a very successful business like UCH engage in revenue reduction on any significant scale?
It’s a critically important question. A basic tenet of Clayton Christiansen’s work at Harvard Business School is that only rarely do institutions that succeed under one business model participate in the development of the one that disrupts and replaces that model. The temptation to resist change and perpetuate the last successful revenue model is just too great in most instances. And yet, that’s essentially what a hospital accustomed to being paid fee for service does when it engages in process improvement.
Likely several things are going on. It’s hard to argue with reducing harm the system does to patients. But that’s always been true, and it doesn’t explain why we did so little before, and why programs like IHQSE are now proliferating around the country. The number of financial penalties for system failures is also increasing steadily, like nonpayment for readmissions and obvious errors, like wrong side surgery (e.g., operating on the left leg when it’s the right that needs fixing).
But I hope a larger shift in thinking is happening, and that it’s good for the system and its patients. I think it may finally becoming orthodoxy in American health care that the seemingly endless stream of dollars that financed its expansion over the past couple of decades, is coming to an end. In a restricted top line growth environment, profitability increasingly depends on efficiency. And so I hope what we are watching is health care adapting to an emerging environment where efficiency and efficacy isn’t just the right moral thing to do for patients, it’s the best business model. Payers and purchasers are starting to change from paying for activity to paying for outcomes at a set price and a set quality standard. In that environment, it makes all kinds of business sense to do things effectively and efficiently, because it reduces waste, waste that the seller of the service pays for, not the buyer.
I dearly hope this is true. One of the nice things about this shift, even though it puts financial pressure on providers, is that it creates a financial benefit by improving care for patients. Suddenly making care safer, more satisfying for patients, and less expensive is good business. It was very heartening to see how proud the teams were of making their care safer, better, and more efficient. They were truly excited that they could improve the way they do things, and not simply accept that some error, even some harm, was an acceptable standard. To put it more simply, it seems to feel good to do better for the people they are entrusted to serve and the institution for whom they work, simultaneously.

January 14, 2015 at 3:50 PM Leave a comment

Lessons from Aligning Forces for Quality: Five Emerging Trends

I recently attended one of the last meetings of the Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) communities, sixteen communities around the country that have been doing payment and delivery system reform for almost a decade, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I’m sure when the whole program wraps up next April, there will be a formal report on the findings and learnings. For now, here‘s a sampling of what I’ve learned.
• Payment reform is hard, and is greatly propelled by a dominant entity demanding change. When I worked in Albuquerque, reform efforts really took off when New Mexico Medicaid included participation in a payment reform pilot as a requirement for health plans doing business with them. In Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan reorganized their delivery system into a series of Physician Organizations that are tasked with improving quality and controlling cost. In Cincinnati the ongoing scrutiny of large employers drives their provider community to compete on cost and quality. The theme is that both health plans and providers pay attention when a large source of their revenue demands that they do business differently.
• Providers do best when the incentives are harmonized between payers. Over and over again we heard from providers that paying attention to multiple bonus schemes and/or quality metrics from different payment sources is very difficult. If we can harmonize these incentives, there is a greater chance we can drive change at the practice level. The current Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative (CPCI) is a product of this thinking, testing whether having the same metrics and incentives across public and private payers results in greater practice level change. The whole idea is to increase the signal to noise ratio.
• Meaningful consumer engagement remains elusive. We continue to struggle with what reporting and metrics will be meaningful enough for consumers to use to choose providers and plans. Are we simply producing measures that are relevant to policy wonks but not average people? Or are the things that average people care about so diverse that we can’t create standards across the board? Is it just that most of us use the product very occasionally, and therefore don’t have an opinion until we are embroiled in a major illness or injury? These questions remain unanswered.
• Data can be very powerful, but it takes substantial work to make it relevant and useful. A number of AF4Q communities now have access to All Payer Claims Databases (APCDs), and even with that advantage, it takes a long time to get meaningful reports out of them. Fundamentally claims were intended for one purpose: to notify a payer that services have been rendered and payment was due. But pragmatically it is often still the most accessible evidence of a clinical encounter, and so we are using these data for lots of purposes for which they were never intended. This creates problems with attribution, episode definition, analysis and interpretation of the data.
• Despite the above, almost all of the hardest challenges in payment and delivery system reform are cultural and social, not technical. As much as data analysis is still in the working-out-the-bugs phase, all of it is technically possible now. The remaining barriers are very frequently political and cultural. Some entities feel these data are key to their business advantage, and are loathe to share with others, even those who consume and pay for the services in question. There is a growing awareness that such a stance is indefensible; after all, who has a greater right to the data than those who pay for the services and those who receive them? It further takes a concerted effort by those who pay and those who use to get access to what they should have anyway. Much of the push for this access is from organizations like the AF4Q communities, entities called Regional Healthcare Improvement Collaboratives (RHICs).
Has a decade of effort to reform payment and delivery been worth it? Undoubtedly there are those who wish for more progress than has been made. I am surely one of those. But nevertheless I think it has been a success—not because all the problems have been solved, but because of the kinds of problems we are working on now vs. ten years ago. Ten years ago, almost no one had an APCD. Ten years ago, no one could conceive of how bundled payments would actually work. And ten years ago, we couldn’t even hear the voices crying for true patient partnerships, not token engagement. There is plenty left to do; for a moment, though, we should pause to celebrate what we’ve done, and how much closer we are to the system we want.

January 7, 2015 at 10:34 AM Leave a comment

Wristwatches and knowing your neighbors; so out they’re in?

I recently gave my daughter an old watch I found while cleaning out a drawer. It was a plain-looking Bulova, with a small face and a black strap.   “Cool!” she said. “You know, it’s so convenient, just looking at your wrist when you want to know the time, rather than reaching for your phone.”

Whether you find that funny or not depends on your generation. In my generation, we find that ironic and humorous, because it seems so obvious.   But for my daughter’s generation, it’s a novel thought. Everything old is new again.

It occurs to me that geographically-based communities might be similar, so retro that they become cool again. The great American obsession with mobility as a measure of status seems to be waning for my daughter’s generation. I was sitting next to a flight attendant “deadheading” on a flight back to Denver recently, and she lamented that the glamor days of air travel are long gone. She missed the days when people dressed up to fly, replaced now by folks in shorts and flip-flops. For my generation like so many before it, transportation implied luxury, the more exotic the better.

I also recently stayed at a resort that had a car museum on site, and an exclusive car club where members could store their expensive toys in an arid climate. I would bet that most members are older (as are many of the cars!). But for my daughter’s generation, many don’t intend to own a car, and getting a driver’s license, once a rite of passage for the American Graffiti generation, is now simply a hassle reluctantly undertaken.   Car2Go and Uber will do just fine, thanks, until driverless Google cars come around!

What does this have to do with health? The car was once a symbol of independence, and the ability to control one’s own time. But as it became commonplace, the downsides of that device have come to light. Many in their 20s are viewing it as a commodity, to be consumed as needed, and not more than that.

Similarly, the Internet allowed us to find others by interest and worldview, irrespective of geography.  Once association was limited by an inability to travel; that faded with cars and planes. Then that trend accelerated with the ability to exchange information, even form community, without having to be in the same place.  How cool!  Today Skype and similar applications link us to others around the world, allowing us to see strife in the Middle East up close, and visit with our loved ones around the globe daily if we so choose. For a while, it seemed to me that geography was becoming irrelevant.

But the recent literature around health tells us that geography, when it comes to health, is anything but irrelevant. Indeed, one of the raging debates in my wonkosphere is whether to pay differently and/or to have different quality standards by neighborhood. The social determinants of health seem to be greatly influenced by what others around us are doing. Those with healthy lifestyles tend to seek out others with healthy lifestyles, and vice versa. Who you hang out with is more and more recognized as a large influence on behaviors, including those that affect health.

So maybe the geographic community, once so passé in the uber-mobile American society, maybe, just maybe, it’s making a comeback, like that old Bulova watch. Once thought to be obsolete, maybe it’s cool again to have neighborhoods where people know each other. Once the novelty of instant communication wears off and becomes something of a hassle like owning a car (I think I’m already there), maybe we’ll realize again that one of the best things for us is knowing the people next door.   The studies certainly seem to imply this. It may turn out that in the end that gadgets are cool, but ultimately we crave those things that just work: the time on our wrist, or communities where we say hi to one another on our morning walk.

November 19, 2014 at 9:55 AM Leave a comment

Physicians Leading the Effort to Contain HC Cost

I had the privilege of attending the Physician Leadership Summit at Stanford University recently. The conference was put on by the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement (NRHI) and was hosted by Dr. Arnie Milstein of the Clinical Excellence Research Center. NRHI selected physician leaders from five states to come together and discuss how total cost of care information might be used to improve quality and reduce cost. Now for most people, this is a pretty arcane topic, and you might expect that this was a two day snoozer. In fact, it was anything but.

I worked with my fellow NRHI staff on this for many months, and not without some trepidation. Would physicians get what total cost of care means? Would they feel responsible for it, or would they just feel overwhelmed? And how would they take to the communication challenge, the part for which I was responsible? I worried about all of these things.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have worried. The physicians I met were without exception profoundly intelligent and decent people. They immediately grasped the potential of understanding total cost of care, and understood how they, as primary care physicians, could reduce cost and improve quality simultaneously. More than that, they understood the leadership challenge of swimming against the prevailing culture for something that is hard to do, but right. They understood it because they have been doing it, each in his/her own sphere, largely unaware there were others laboring in the same vineyard, a few rows over. I am profoundly grateful to have met them, and that they got to meet each other. If you’re going to be digging and planting in the hot sun, it helps to have company.

Pragmatically we will need hundreds and thousands of the kind of physician leaders I met at Stanford if we are to change the way we take care of people for the better, and not just change the way we pay for care. There are many reasons for this rooted in sociology, psychology, and neuroscience that we will go into another time. But to date I haven’t found a way to cultivate such leaders except one by one, and face to face. And so, from this small beginning, I have hope that these leaders will bring others into this field, and that we might bear fruit for the communities in which we live. Salue!

September 3, 2014 at 10:48 AM Leave a comment

Retooling for the information glut age: five things physicians should do to lead

In the last post, I talked about what physicians should stop doing if they wanted to have a leadership position in the rapidly evolving healthcare world. In the spirit of bringing solutions and not just problems, today’s list is five things that I think we as physicians collectively should start doing.
1. Start looking at medical care as a shared and finite resource. With the best of intentions, we have mostly looked at health care as an infinite resource, i.e., inexhaustible. As long as patients had insurance, we could order whatever we wanted, with little or no consideration of cost/benefit ratios. Even if something was very, very unlikely to work, so long as it didn’t harm patients in some obvious way, we got to do it. But pooling finite resources doesn’t make them infinite, just finite and bigger. And that’s exactly what we do when we create insurance pools. We’ve never had to think, “If I order expensive test for patient A, there might not be resources available for patient B.” But no less an authority than Don Berwick said, “Cost is the moral dimension of our times.” This is because he correctly identified health care as a limited resource. And, he also realized that if there’s a limit to what a society can pay for health care, then efficiency and efficacy matter, because anything spent ineffectively on one person can’t be spent effectively on another. This matters because there are only a couple of ways a group of people can keep spending within a budget: cutting out waste and inefficiency is one, so there’s enough to go around; reducing the number of people we are concerned with is another. Most of us in the medical field are pretty uncomfortable with the second way.
2. Start partnering with people who understand finance. If we are going to deal with care as a finite resource, it’ll be helpful to have partnerships with people who know how to manage money. This would be CFO types, whether they’re in our organization or someone else’s. Now in our historical physician culture, anyone who was fluent in money was viewed as prioritizing profit over patients’ well-being. Bean counters, we called them. But that view is an oversimplification. They got the t-shirt with the BAD COP logo on it, which made us look really good sporting the GOOD COP logo. In fact, many health care CFOs I have known feel a serious moral obligation informs their management; often they went into health care rather than some other field for many of the same emotional reasons we did. I think many of us have an irrational fear that if we actually understand the finances we’ll be influenced to view money to be more important than patient care. In essence, we feel ignorance is protective. I question the wisdom of employing this strategy.
3. Start thinking beyond health care to health. An inconvenient truth is our healthcare system is largely a rescue system, like the fire department: we don’t prevent fires, we just try to put them out once they start, mostly. It should not be surprising therefore that the healthcare system only affects about 10% of health outcomes. The rest? Genetics, environmental factors, and behaviors. Included in the environmental factors seems to be factors that are specific to neighborhoods, like resilience and social support. So while we would never get rid of fire departments, we also shouldn’t think that all firefighting and no fire prevention is our best strategy. Prudent communities do both, funding the fire department and clearing brush from around their houses in fire-prone areas. If there are ways to reduce the need for emergent interventions like fire department runs and emergency room visits, wouldn’t we want to do that? The hard truth about that is with the exception of those of us who went into pediatrics and/or public health, we received very little education and training in affecting those other factors. That brings me to the next thing.
4. Start acknowledging that we can’t win the health game without lots of other professional types, because we can’t affect lots of the other determinants. Social workers, housing organizations, social organizations—many of these organizations that have no way of dropping medical bills have their success expressible in medical outcomes, like drops in ER visit rates and hospitalizations. Producing health care by ourselves, no problem. Producing health by ourselves, big problem. Arguably it can’t be done. Now I don’t know about you, but I went into this because I wanted to fix things, and I was willing to work really hard to gain the skills to do that. So it’s something of a disappointment that I quickly found I was ill-equipped to fix lots of the problems that generate the symptoms I saw in my medical practice: health-destroying habits, ineffective stress management mechanisms, unstable housing and/or relationships, early childhood trauma. The list goes on and on. The good news is that there are lots of other professional types who by training and temperament are better equipped to address these factors than we are. The bad news is we have to ask them to help us, since we can’t fix what they can fix. That requires real humility and openness, and too often we left medical school thinking we could get through an entire career without invoking either one of those things. These days, that turns out to be wrong.
5. And while we’re at it, start acknowledging that the most important partner we have in winning the health game is the patient himself. I am nowhere near as eloquent on this topic as others like my friend e-Patient Dave, but his message that I agree with is, “I’m your patient and partner, and I’m here to help. Just ask me.” It reminds me of that bumper sticker, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” If we think partnering with patients is time and resource-intensive, that’s nothing compared with not partnering with them. Judy Hibbard’s work on the patient activation measure is pretty clear on this point. Highly activated patients get to effective strategies and treatments way faster than their less activated peers. This results in lower cost, and higher satisfaction for both the provider and the patient.
These five points are probably necessary and not sufficient, but they are a decent start, and hard enough all by themselves. I was on the phone a little while ago with a friend who also works in this field of health care transformation. He was telling me about all the cool things he was doing, from moving care out of clinics and into homes and “hubs” (places with high concentrations of patient need) to redesigning benefits for large companies personalized to individual patients. It struck me that he’s part of the vanguard of physicians that is willing to turn the traditional model on its head: little bricks and mortar, go where they are rather than make them come to us, use social media to meet them in their cyber environment rather than make them meet us in the physical world, etc.; all faster, cheaper, and more convenient than the status quo. But these innovations don’t even occur to us until we start thinking total dollars, total populations, and health rather than health care. Once we do, though, all kinds of possibilities pop into our heads, and we can help move things forward.

August 6, 2014 at 12:22 PM Leave a comment

Five things physicians need to stop doing if they want to lead

In my last post, I talked about the need for physician leadership in the massive amounts of re-engineering necessary to get to a sustainable American health care system. This time around I want to talk about what we need to do differently, because the old saying is true: if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Here are my suggestions for physicians:

Stop thinking money will compensate you for an unsatisfying work life. This is a popular misconception, that you can put up with anything so long as someone pays you lots of money. It doesn’t work that way. There is ample evidence in broken relationships, drug abuse, alcoholism and other expressions of distress in our profession to prove this. Money is a decent proxy for food, shelter, and security, but it doesn’t get you to the top triangle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and piling up more of it has very little marginal benefit to happiness. Doctors in the era of the third party payer have become wealthy materially while taking pay cuts steadily in respect and relatedness. And guess which way professional satisfaction has gone over the same period? Corollary: income preservation isn’t the thing that’ll make you happiest. Finding meaning in your work life will help make you happier. If we want a sustainable system and a sustainable place in it, we need to work for more satisfying lives over more spectacular livings.

Stop thinking that the solutions to our problems are to make other people behave differently while we stay the same. If only health plans would stop hassling us. If only the government would stop regulating us. If only, if only, if only. The heads of those entities are like leaders everywhere: there are days where they would give anything for someone to bring them a solution rather than a problem. Problem generators are abundant. Problem solvers are scarce. Which do you think stand a better chance of getting a meeting with these people?

This means that those who wish to have others change what they do, have to understand those others’ problems. And, they have to genuinely want to help solve those problems. Anything less, and you look like every other appointment on their calendars. I once met with a congressional staffer who picked my brain for an hour, and at the end said, “That was great!” I asked why, and he said, “Because you didn’t ask for anything. Everybody else always has something they want us to do for them.” Man, there’s a tough job.

Change most often begins with how we are going to change ourselves. And interestingly, that internal change often fosters change in those around us. We are hard-wired to respond to each other’s social cues, and neuroscience has found structures in our brains that are on automatic to sense and interpret those cues. Mirror neurons and the limbic system are parts of what Dan Kahneman calls System 1. It runs in the background while we are doing rational work in System 2, like math or logic. But as the older and more primitive portions of the brain, System 1 overrides System 2 in times of distress. These days, that’s a substantial portion of people’s days.

Stop thinking that we’ve paid our dues, and our living is compensation for suffering through school and training. It doesn’t work that way anymore. Actually, in most other areas of society, it never did. Once, before we were able to measure complicated things like medical outcomes, society basically gave us a magic key called a medical degree and said, “Death scares the bejeezus out of us. We did our best to pick agents in our fight against it, and we picked you. Please, please, please do a good job, because we have no way to know whether you did or not. We’re trusting you with our lives, literally.” We were honored by their selection of us, and we promised to do good the day we graduated.

But these days, people can measure doctor’s performance, and they are increasingly dissatisfied by what they’re finding. Seventeen years to adopt obviously good medical practice? Wassup with that? Today the boards and hospital privileges are no longer the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval they once were. So what if you passed a really hard test a few years ago? Today, people who buy medical stuff want proof, and they want it on an ongoing basis. That’s been happening for people who build stuff like cars and dishwashers for a long time, since those are simpler tasks. But computing has caught up with measuring complex tasks, like hip replacements and chemotherapy.

Stop seeing everyone else as them, instead of us. This one is going to take a while, because we are products of a selection and training process that did nothing if not tell us that we were different than other members of the species. Smarter. More hard-working. More tolerant of sleep deprivation. And then we were inculcated into a subculture that extrapolated that (much of which wasn’t true) into the fatal delusion, “Not subject to the normal failure rate of human beings.” Think about it. Who are the heroes of our lore? Osler, DeBakey, Starzl. People who never admitted an error in their lives, ever. And yet, they all made mistakes. They weren’t a different species. But we share a comforting delusion with the larger society that we are error-free, because all of us want to believe that our error rate in life-and-death stuff can be reduced to zero by individual will and effort. It can’t.

We need to reclaim our own humanity, including the error part. We compensate for that in other industries by having redundant safety features and procedures, such as those in operating commercial aircraft and nuclear power plants. But we can’t compensate for an inherent human error rate until we acknowledge it. And we can’t do that so long as we claim we are innately exempt from errors. We can’t rejoin the human race until we acknowledge we are part of its imperfection, and ask for help in minimizing the impact of that imperfection on our brothers and sisters. To borrow from a recent bestseller’s ironic twist on Shakespeare, the fault lies in our stars, and in our selves. We should stop purporting that we have no part in what goes wrong with the way we treat our fellow human beings. We do, not because of bad intent, but because of our underlying humanity.

Stop hoping that it’ll all work out in the way we want without our having to lead the change. As if. “The best way to predict your future is to create it,” wrote Abraham Lincoln. It’s still true today. The future of medicine is being created today, and not necessarily by people who took the Hippocratic Oath.   Nature abhors a vacuum, and that’s nothing compare with what it thinks about a power vacuum. When you’re talking about a $2.7 trillion industry, there are lots of people who want to make the rules for a modest commission on that $2.7 trillion.

But you all took an oath to help and not to harm people in the most vulnerable moments of their lives. The way I see it, that still applies, whether you do your work in the exam room or the board room. At the very least, I want you at the table to express that value. But you won’t get there so long as you continue to do the five things above. Here’s hoping you’ll stop.

Next time, what I think we should start doing.

July 2, 2014 at 2:32 PM Leave a comment

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