Is there a Solution to the Challenges in Health Care?

What does health care in the United States need?

Well, according to a report released May 29 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), U.S. health care organizations need “systems engineering.”

In their letter to President Obama, PCAST Co-Chairs John Holdren and Eric Lander state that “systems engineering, widely used in manufacturing and aviation, is an interdisciplinary approach to analyze, design, manage, and measure a complex system in order to improve its efficiency, reliability, productivity, quality, and safety.”

In other words, health care organizations, including hospitals and community-based providers, need to manage their operations as an integrated whole rather than as a set of discrete components. They need to design, implement, measure, analyze, and manage their operations as one system if they want to simultaneously improve their operations, finances, and patient outcomes. 

Holdren and Lander go on to say, “[Systems engineering] has often produced dramatically positive results in the small number of health-care organizations that have incorporated it into their processes. But in spite of excellent examples, systems methods and tools are not yet used on a widespread basis in U.S. health care.”

To increase the use of systems methods and tools, they recommend that “Health and Human Services and the Department of Commerce build on the Baldrige awards to recognize health-care providers successfully applying system engineering approaches.” They note that the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award provides the opportunity to raise awareness of performance excellence in U.S. health care.

It is gratifying that the Council recognizes the unique role that the Baldrige Award has been playing in health care. The Baldrige Criteria, in fact, provide exactly the holistic, systems approach to excellence that the PCAST report recommends. Seventeen health care organizations have received the Baldrige Award since 1999. And these role-model organizations manage to simultaneously provide outstanding patient, operational, and financial outcomes.

What may be surprising to a health care or other organization leader not familiar with the Baldrige Program is that we are more than “just” a Presidential award; in fact, Baldrige is an educational program with an award component, not the other way around. Thousands of organizations use the Baldrige criteria as their integrated performance management framework without ever applying for the award. 

Health care organizations are experiencing a true sea change in expectations from their stakeholders, including the payors, patients, and workforce they depend on for their survival and financial well-being. We wholeheartedly agree with the Council that a systems approach can help any health care organization adapt and thrive despite these rapidly changing demands. The national payoff when more organizations heed the Council’s call and systematically work toward performance excellence will be healthier citizens and communities, and a healthier economy.

To learn more about how Baldrige can help your organization

call our customer service line at 301-975-2036 or visit our website at http://www.nist.gov/baldrige/.

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4 Responses to Is there a Solution to the Challenges in Health Care?

  1. Carlos J Carrera MD DFAPA says:

    As a past examiner (2006 and 2009) as well as a past Carey Award (VHA using Baldrige Criteria) examiner I am delighted to read this. I will be looking for ways to become more active again…

  2. Larry Dux says:

    Although there have only been 17 Malcolm Baldrige Award winning healthcare organizations the real story is the number of applicants both at the national level and state level who are actively using the Malcolm Baldrige criteria to improve. Please note that the submission requirements were changed in 2012 and that is the reason for the decline in the number of health care applicants at the national level (below).
    2014 12 applicants*
    2013 15 applicants*
    2012 25 applicants*

    2011 40 applicants
    2010 54 applicants

  3. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for the article.
    I find it ironic that a Baldrige blog promoting Quality and Excellence does not utilize spell-check to reduce defects (e.g. “apply for the Baldrige award and RECIEVE detailed feedback on your organizational performance”).

    • Barbara Fischer says:

      Thanks for your comment. We have corrected the typo, which we had also noticed. If you would like to comment on the content of the blog, we’ll be glad to post it. Thanks again!

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