Sunday, March 28, 2010

TED talk: Intel's Eric Dishman: Take health care off the mainframe

Intel (the computer chip maker) is big into healthcare these days. A lot of people wonder what computer chips have to do with healthcare. At one level you could say that when we all have home health devices, millions more chips will be sold. But as you're about to see, there's a lot more to Intel's thinking than that.

Eric Dishman is director of health innovation and policy for Intel’s Digital Health Group. They're not just talking about what we mean by healthcare today - they're talking about a very, very different approach to what medicine today tries to solve: living better, living longer.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Best License Plate of the Month

Spotted today by daughter Lindsey. Who rocks, btw.

(The first letter is a Q, in case you can't tell.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Adding the Odiogo blog post reader

I've just added something to this blog that I've seen for years elsewhere: the Odiogo "Voice your content" plugin. Click the "Listen now" button at the top of any post and it'll read it to you.

Pretty amazing, for free. To tell the truth, though I've seen it for years, I've never quite believed it. But it works. :-)

Thanks to two perennial leaders for being the bloggers where I've noticed it:

That post on Brian's blog is where I found Odiogo again.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lean retreat, day 5: Reporting to leadership, taking it back to gemba

Here's our class photo. A whole bunch of inspiring residents, some attendings (full doctors, I believe?), some nurses, and a couple of patients:

Today we reported to leadership on the process we'd gone through. One of Lean's principles is to ask the experts, and if you've been paying attention you know that in Lean the experts are the ones who do the work. So after introductions, the presentation was delivered by us - the students.

Of course, this being a major teaching hospital, the leadership provided some, ahem, clear feedback. :-) But this hospital being a great place, the "clear feedback" was delivered respectfully and with good, open dialog.

A big part of our thinking today was about taking it back to gemba - the workplace. Anyone who reads Dilbert knows that too often a retreat like this ends up as an impotent misfire. So our leaders Alice Lee and Julius Yang MD led discussion of how we'll work at bringing these changes to life, while fitting the work into everyone's full workday. I look forward to seeing how it goes.

I pointed out that this process of building bridges, from the "decision room" into the next step, parallels the work we did on the patient discharge process: building a bridge from the staff's intentions out to the patient's home. Without that work, handoffs of either type are unlikely to bear fruit.

I want to say again what a great experience it is to be actively engaged in the process of improving care delivery at my hospital. I know patient engagement isn't new; I'm just so happy to be involved in this way. Believe me, I was a full and active participant, and I wasn't just "surveyed" and sent packing, I was part of the team. What a great experience. And what fun!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lean retreat, day 4: Synchronize / align, and the House of Lean

Yesterday was hard work, because we stepped out of "supposedly" and into "Okay, what CAN we accomplish in 3-6 months?" Because Lean isn't about massive centralized re-engineering, it's about small practical improvements - continuously.

Today we took the results of that work and honed it down to small projects that the hospital will actually pursue. (I didn't realize that when the week started.) The day's byword was "synchronize," not in the time-sync sense, but in the sense of getting aligned and coordinated, rowing in a common direction.

We brought together our different learnings from the week into an action plan that fits into the "house of lean" diagram we started with on Monday. I didn't grab a snapshot of it then, but here's today's hand-drawn reconstruction. See legend below.

The foundation has three layers:

  1. Stability: You cannot improve steadily without a stable process. So, a lot of work goes into stabilizing how work is done. In any industry including healthcare this can require giving up a certain amount of craftsmanship - but in my view the predictable, repeatable part of the work is what gets stabilized, and craftsmanship moves out onto the frontiers, where it's most needed.
  2. Standardization: As I described yesterday, this is about having a shared, continuously improved, agreed approach to the parts of the work that can be standardized.
  3. "Kaizen mindset": Kaizen is continuous small improvements: every day do something a little bit better.
On this foundation stand two parallel pillars:
  • Flow: a hallmark of Lean is the idea that inventory and uneven workflow are wasteful. When MIT Sloan's Mike Cusumano went to Japan in the 1980s to study Japan's car makers, he found that although they were all good, Toyota produced the same number of cars with half the floor space and half the people. That's because they managed every aspect of the process to produce steady flow.
    Yes, inventory and uneven workload can be managed to a minimal state. And when that happens, all kinds of wasteful workarounds disappear.
  • Quality at the Source ("Jidoka"): in Lean it's absolute folly to achieve quality by manufacturing defective things and then spending labor to find the defects (inspection) and weed them out. Make everything in a quality fashion the first time.
    This week I learned that a vast amount of time on a hospital floor is spent re-checking things because errors are so costly. To me, as someone from industry, this gives the lie to any healthcare executive who takes an arrogant position because of the supposed vast intellect of people in healthcare. I know healthcare executives are smart, but if they're not working on improving quality, they're guilty of ignoring existing knowledge from other disciplines. That's not scientific.
And the roof, the healthcare platform that's supported by the foundation and pillars, the "true north," is Patient Centered Care. In Lean healthcare, all the other activities are of value only to the extent that they carry this load.

There's another aspect - the center of this house - that doesn't appear in many diagrams of the "House of Lean," but was prominently taught to us today: human development. All lean practitioners talk about "respect for people" or "respect for humanity," but not everyone emphasizes it in this way, as the center of the House. The other day Lean Hospitals author Mark Graban described it to me as respect for human potential, and indeed one of the 8 forms of waste we were taught is "Unused Human Talent."

So you can imagine how pleased I was to be a voice of the patient in this exercise. Because as the week went on, I saw that when we clear out the clutter that keeps clinicians from doing their job, we make it easier for them to make the most of their talent. And by empowering patients and families to be active (participatory medicine), we make the most of their talent too.

What a thrill to be involved in this week. Thanks so much to Beth Israel Deaconess for inviting me and helping to make it possible.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lean retreat, day 3: The Pig Game (learning about standardized work)

Modern healthcare is complex, and managing complexity is no laughing matter: it can be life and death. (More on this below.) As always this leaves us with the question, what can we do that would make any difference? That's where Lean comes in.

One aspect of Lean is standardized work - where "standardized" means a shared and continuously improved standard approach. Physicians are given leeway to use their judgment, but all in the enterprise must agree that the right way is to agree on a method, all use it, all contribute their ideas for improvement. And track what works.

That's how we know, for instance, that the central line infection rate has dropped so dramatically, as I mentioned the other day.

Well, to teach us about standardized work, today we did a classic Lean exercise: the Pig Game. Everyone is given a "tic tac toe" grid, and instructions on what to draw. In round 1 everyone's pig comes out vastly different, though all had the same spoken instruction. In rounds 2 and 3 .... well, I won't spoil it, but I'll say that the same group of humans produced far more uniform results when the work was defined more effectively. :)

This morning we heard from Steven J. Spear, author of Chasing the Rabbit. For homework we read chapters 2 and 3, which made a compelling case that in today's enterprises complexity is the rule and it's the thing that must be managed: no longer is it sufficient to be good at what each of us does - we must manage, together, the uncontrollably complex interaction between our areas of knowledge.

And yes, when I say "we," I'm including patients. I understand more clearly than ever why patients must be engaged in their care, in and out of the hospital. (Actually that's only true if they want the best possible outcome from their treatment. I do.)

The book relates a heart-rending story of a woman who was accidentally given the wrong fluid and died. I won't try to depict the circumstances because anything short of the whole story would give you the wrong impression; I'll just say that when I read it I cried, not just for the patient but for the nurse who did it. (Apparently the wrong tiny vial, looking almost identical, was in the cart.)

It was heart-rending, as I say; then he documents how very similar failures in process and policy led to NASA's Challenger disaster.

The very first business transformation course I ever took, many years ago, was from a company named Innovation Associates. The course leaders were Charlie Siefert (coincidentally a fellow member of my college glee club) and Peter Senge, who has since become famous for the "Learning Organization" concept, about enterprises whose central competence is to learn new competences. In that course we were taught two fundamentals:
  • How to envison a future, unconstrained by current reality. Very right-brain.
  • System dynamics: an understanding of how complex systems work. Totally left-brain.
It was a full weekend, back and forth between the cerebral hemispheres. The climax was apocalyptic: on the last afternoon an exercise led us, unsuspecting, to a conclusion that's horrid to any engineer: you can't figure it all out. You have to think it out as best you can, start operating, and see how it goes, adjusting on the fly.

And since in a complex system problems are likely to arise no matter how much you plan, you need to be really honest about how it's going. It's truly inspiring to work with a group that's dedicated to improvement like this. (And producing great results.)

And for the raw-business data junkies out there, here's today's Results Tidbit:

Yesterday I described how the Beth Israel Deaconess business transformation team worked with the orthopedics department. One outcome was a total rework of how hip replacement surgery was done. Not only did they improve quality, they can now schedule three total hip replacements per day, not two.

Yeah, folks, that's a 50% increase in business and better quality.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lean retreat, day 2

Previous post here

Continuing our exploration of how to reduce how many Medicare patients are readmitted after leaving the hospital, this morning we started getting our hands dirty, thinking out all the activities that take place - and can go wrong - when a patient is sent home.

Now, I have some experience with this, having been sent home seven times from my seven admissions in 2007, but I never had any idea how many things were going on behind the scenes. In particular I had no clue how often "final" paperwork (in the computer) had to get "unfinalized" and modified - and much how of a pain the computer systems make it. Plus, there are many many places where information can fall through the cracks, because this is all far less automated than I would have, naively, thought.

As always, the useful question quickly becomes, what can we do to improve this? It's no good ranting, because even a rant leaves you with this: "Okay, got it. Now: you're at where you're at. What can we do that will make any difference?"

And here's where it gets inspiring, because Lean has produced remarkable results without requiring vast new IT systems, and especially since its methods are well within the reach of ordinary people. For one thing, you don't have to figure it all out first - you think, and try things, and see what works. For another, today's eye-opening exercise was done with Post-Its, paper, and Sharpies.

More formally, "think, try, see what works" is called PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, Act [or Adjust]. It's really the scientific method applied to practical managerial problem solving. And it works. I've personally witnessed the transformation of the customer experience in this hospital's orthopedics department; when I first went there the wait was horrid (three hour visits were not unusual), and today people are in and out in 52-56 minutes - consistently.

This stuff works.

In the exercise pictured here, we mapped out four different stages of a patient being discharged, going home, and eventually returning to the clinic (doctor's office) for a follow-up visit. Apologies for the poor picture, but you can vaguely see "swim lanes" for the different people involved: the top row, with green Post-Its, is the patient; the row below is the case manager; other rows are the inpatient MD, the nurse, pharmacist, etc. All these people have specific responsibilities in discharging a patient. Each activity was written on a stickie. There were hundreds.

Then we went back and, as a group, looked at every single activity and marked it in the Lean way:

  • Value Added. (Is this specific activity something the customer came here for?) Getting instructions or therapy: yes. Waiting: no.
  • Not Value Added. Everything else: filling out paperwork, re-checking medication lists, paging the attending physician, you name it. Some might be necessary, but none of them is what the customer came here for. Lean strives to eliminate these.
  • Not Value Added, but Required. A subset of Not Value Added.
In principle all "Not Value Added / Not Required" items should be eliminated. But a vital part of the Lean method is that you start where you're at, try things, and improve incrementally. And even if you did eliminate all such things, you'd still continue making everything leaner and leaner.

Yellow and orange stickies, known as "stormclouds," were added, showing areas where things can go awry. Clusters indicate key areas to engineering reliability into the process.

Does it work? Heck yes: more data on that in tomorrow's installment.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Participating in my hospital's Lean quality improvement retreat

I'm very, very honored to be indulging this week in a new form of "patient engagement": I'm participating in the annual "Lean" quality improvement retreat at my hospital, Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

In the workshop with me are about 20 BID staffers - mostly residents, some nurses and other staff. Having been on the receiving end of care in seven admissions during my near-fatal 2007 illness, it's an honor to be behind the scenes now and helping work on the continuous improvement that's a hallmark of Lean.

Here's the team leading the workshop, from the hospital's Business Transformation team. From left: Jenine Davignon, Kim Eng, Julius Yang, Bonnie Baker, Alice Lee, Anjala Tess.

"Lean" is the methodology that's transformed many industries in recent decades. It's about identifying what you do that creates value for your customer - as defined by the customer - and eliminating everything you do that's not that. Marvelously, when you follow this method, not only does quality go up but costs go down, and things tend to get done faster, too - a pretty slick combination.

Hospital CEO Paul Levy has written often on his blog about how they've been applying Lean methods for five years. A recent example is here. In this workshop we're all learning about the Lean approach, and even on our first day we applied it by "going to gemba," the place where work happens.

Our homework is from the book Lean Hospitals by Mark Graban of the Lean Enterprise Institute in Cambridge. He was the guest lecturer during today's working lunch.

The focus of our workshop this week is the hospital discharge process. I never would have known it's such a big deal, but it turns out nationwide 20% of all patients discharged from hospitals are readmitted within a month - and Beth Israel Deaconess is a bit worse than that. So we'll be looking at all the various factors that might contribute to unsuccessful handoffs, and how process improvements might help.

This place has some success with Lean. One of the first big initiatives was to reduce the rate of central line infections. In January Paul announced that the infection rate per 1,000 patient days has dropped 83%. To me this is a big deal because:

  • 25% of central line infections lead to death
  • During my treatment in 2007, I had four central lines put in, for a total of 28 days.
The hospital is open about this process - openly disclosing their failure rates and progress: (CL-BSI is central line blood stream infection.)

So before my admission I'd read all about this initiative, and I was able to chat about it with the surgeons each time they did it to me. And I was, like, really glad they'd undertaken this Lean improvement before my time came.

That kind of openness is only possible if you're committed to improvement, more than anything else.

That's part of why I'm honored and thrilled to be part of their next Lean workshop. So much in healthcare needs improving, and here we are, actively at work on making caregivers' jobs more effective.

Next post in the series here

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Impromptu interview with the Get Better Health team

This past week I attended the big annual convention of HIMSS, the Health Information Management Systems Society, in Atlanta. While there I was buttonholed by the famous Dr. Val Jones of Get Better Health to come talk on their live video stream.  It's a fun thing - all you need is a webcam, and you can broadcast like this!

We talked a little about the show and then got into some (unexpectedly) sincere talk about what e-patient is and isn't, what participatory medicine is about, etc.

My host here was the anonymous doctor blogger Doctor Anonymous.

Friday, March 5, 2010

News for cancer patients: Attitude influences outcomes

I've often described how when the odds were really poor, I used the power of the mind to help my own cause.I cited Norman Cousins' famous book Anatomy of an Illness, I asked my family to send me DVDs of things that make me laugh, and throughout my disease, when I or others were faced with worries, I asked "What could be said that would make a difference?"

I've cited that when Cousins wrote his book we didn't yet know about psychoneuroimmunology - the relatively new field of how mood affects the nervous system which affects the immune system. In other words, yeah, your mood can make you strong. (I'm not kidding; look it up.)

On Twitter today I came across a blog post about some evidence that people with optimistic personalities do better years later when lung cancer strikes.

  • 534 lung cancer patients were selected who had, years earlier, taken the MMPI personality test. 
  • They were divided into "pessimistic" and "non-pessimistic." The "non" group might include optimistics and neutrals - I don't know.
  • Their survival rates were monitored.
Results: Non-pessimists had ...
  • 46% higher median survival than pessimists
  • 55% higher 5 year survival
The effect was "independent of smoking status, cancer stage, treatment, comorbidities, age and gender."

So: Regardless of  whether your medical condition is strong or not, this sounds like a heck of a good thing to add to your tactics. Doesn't cost much, either.

Presuming you want to live longer, that is. You don't have to. But if you do, think about it.

The original article appeared in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology. The summary that I read is on Medical News Today.