December 26, 2011

What Makes a Successful Hospital - Where Are the Tweakers???

First off, I don't have a business degree (in fact, I'm a MBA drop-out) nor a degree in hospital administration (does chairing a hospital committee count?), but I do have an opinion (don't we all) in light of having co-founded a bioinformatics company (iCORD, LLC) in the past based on a patent developed during my surgical residency... But I also admit that the company was ultimately unsuccessful if one measures success in terms of monetary profits, but I can say I succeeded in that my now defunct company's "product" still lives on at Duke University Medical Center.

It is perhaps my mixed bag background of a few victories and even more failures that I learned a thing or two about what it means to become better... it is what I call evolutionary tweaking or to put it more bluntly... whining and doing something about it. But let's stick with the "tweaker" euphemism.

Tweakers are annoying and may be a thorn in any administrator's side, but they produce results. They tinker and tinker in an attempt to improve and better a situation they consider a problem whether it be an engine, a computer program, or an entire production system.

Based on Isaacson's biography about Steve Jobs, he had it in abundance... even on medical care and devices during his last days.

Apparently, in his very last days of life, he went through 67 nurses before he found 3 he liked. He also refused to wear an oxygen mask due to a perceived poor design until he personally reviewed 5 different mask options and picked the one he liked best.

I'm certainly not promoting a culture where every patient, nurse, doctor, and administrator should start whining and complaining about everything. The hospital would shut-down.

BUT, there should be a culture where incremental tweaks are not only allowed, but encouraged with the expectation that many ideas will fail with monetary setbacks. However, just like survival of the fittest, the cumulative evolutionary cycles of keeping successful ideas and tossing ones that aren't will lead to a better organization over time... continuously and cheaply.

Home run ideas should not be the goal. Batting consistent singles (or tweaks) are...

There are systems to describe this process: PDSA (Plan Do Study Act), Toyota Production System, Just-In-Time Production, Deming Wheel, Shewhart Cycle, Control Circle, etc.

Now I certainly am not the first to suggest this concept to hospital settings. In fact, I've seen PDSA posters tacked on a wall in hospital physician lounges in the past.

However, I have observed great variances in how different hospital systems incorporate this "controlled whining" into their culture and administration.

Some embrace this process wholeheartedly and have succeeded in abundance. Others give lip service and designate the "tweakers" as whiners to be shut-up with bureaucratic red-tape, offensiveness requiring peer-review, or worse.

Employees and staff are a hospital's greatest assets both in terms of knowledge and production services. A hospital can either embrace trying to unlock the knowledge of what it already possesses or it can stifle them by punishing those who try to "tweak" thereby sending the message to everybody else to stay in the background... passivity being the rule... or voluntarily leave (or get fired).

The long-term success of a hospital system depends on how well it utilizes ALL its resources including not only encouraging an idea a hospitalist physician may have about telephone communication (allowing for faster patient care), but also trying to discover the knowledge trapped in a janitor's head who just might know how to thoroughly clean a hospital floor in half the time (saving time and money), but is too afraid to say anything.

Adapt or perish. History is replete with immensely successful companies that failed to adapt and are now either bankrupt or nearing death... Eastman Kodak, Tower Records, Borders Bookstores, etc.

And how does a hospital adapt to avoid non-existence? Continuously tweak... even when things are going well. USE all your assets with all guns blazing rather than smothering them.

Celebrate the tweakers!!!
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

Banner Map

Pediatric Neck Masses

Adult Neck Mass Workup