AHA Redux:
A Matter of Leadership!

I began my remarks to the American Hospital Association last week with an outline of the situation as I saw it. I called the outline "Principal Management & Leadership (as opposed to Policy) Issues." That is, it was-is my contention that hospital leaders have a choice; they are beset with constraints (aren't we all?), but such constraints do not keep some enlightened folks from performing miracles—management and leadership miracles!

Herewith my outline, also included in the slides attached to my previous post:

1. Should we be doing what we're doing? Will it work? How do we know? [In a surprising # of cases, it's not clear whether "X" or "Y" is the most effective treatment for a particular problem—e.g., my 2005 ablation vs taking a pill. "Evidence-based medicine" and "comparative effectiveness" research, ticketed to receive major federal funding, are part of the answer. And controversy is huge; i.e., who's to judge?]

2. Are we doing what we decide to do safely? [Various studies suggest that in the U.S. there are several hundred thousand preventable hospital deaths per year—again, some of the stats are very controversial.]

3. Do we do too much—are we in the "overuse" category as determined by agreed upon standards-measures? [It is "generally agreed" that perhaps $750 billion is spent annually on unnecessary tests and treatments—a "piecework" ethos, by the procedure payment, is the major culprit.]

4. Are we doing what we're doing effectively? By local standards? By global standards (as determined by "best practices," best hard evidence, and minimal internal variation) in terms of outcome, quality, safety, and cost? Do we aim, for example, to be "top quartile" in terms of measurable outcomes, quality, safety and "bottom quartile" in terms of cost? [This ought to be a "no brainer"—it's not. A revolution is required here—and it has damn little to do with the insurance payment process, though some would disagree.]

5. Is the institution systematically organized to very consistently deliver the goods in a more or less optimal fashion (low variation in outcome)? [There are a thousand experiments in process, but true systemically organized processes with clear measures and accountability are, alas, rare.]

6. Do all the bits talk to-engage-consult "obsessively" with the other bits? Is the delivery of services truly a turnkey team effort? [Cross-functional communication is arguably enterprise issue #1; in healthcare it's about as bad as it gets—the normal problems are compounded by the hospital "class system," with docs at the tippy-top, and no one else even a close second.]

7. Are the patient and the patient's family at the epicenter of the universe? [Bizarrely, the answer is a resounding "no" in 9 cases out of 10.]

8. Is our institution acknowledged as a "best place to work"? [13 of the top 100 places to work in the U.S., per Fortune, are healthcare institutions—i.e., it is possible!!]

9. Do we acknowledge that people issues-capabilities involving the entire staff affect outcomes far more than capital-technology issues? [For lots of reasons, re-imbursement included, many hospitals are "technology crazy"—owning the latest stuff is more important than ascertaining its usefulness.]

10. Is sustained follow-up at least as much a priority as the "event" itself? [Post-op follow-up and chronic-care are both poor cousins in general in the hospital system setting. Again, the payment system is a culprit—but some manage to do it.]

11. Were we/Are we successful in terms of outcome-quality of life-patient satisfaction with the overall "experience"? [This obviously should be the primo concern—for a host of reasons it's not.]

12. Are all connected with all via an effective electronic network that extends from EMR to Social Networking? [Still not the norm!]

13. Do we acknowledge that most of the choices involved in executing items #1 through #12 are mostly within our discretion regardless of the nature of Obamacare? (And that Obamacare or its successor will almost surely eliminate piecework compensation—which drives the immediacy of much of the above.) [Of course, a health bill changes things—but, fact is, if the determination is there, and it is in some instances, a committed leadership team can move miles and miles down the road specified above.]

14. Do we acknowledge that throughout the system there are, today, enormous variations in outcome concerning every one of the above issues—which can mostly (almost entirely?) be explained in terms of institutional leadership effectiveness (vision, will, systems)? [SOME ARE DOING IT DAMN WELL UNDER TODAY'S CONSTRAINTS—AND THEY ARE IN AWFUL SETTINGS AS WELL AS BETTER OFF SETTINGS. "IT" CAN BE DONE—IT IS BEING DONE!]