Here’s my last ever FierceHealthcare editorial. The FierceMarkets team is taking the editorializing of FierceHealthcare back in-house and I wish them luck. It’s been fun for me (and John Irvine who’s supported me all the way) to work on this over the past couple of years, but I’m happy to get away from the deadline grind and concentrate on THCB and my consulting work. And hopefully I’ll find the time to start working on that book I’ve been threatening you all with. Anyway my last editorial is about the two biggest themes in health care—fixing process and fixing insurance.
Perhaps the dominant theme of the decade in healthcare has been patient safety. Since the 1999 IOM report, hospitals and doctors have focused on improving the medical error situation. Last week, Don Berwick’s IHI announced that a precise number of lives (123,000 and change) had been saved since the voluntary 100,000 Lives Campaign started. This week, the carping started with The Wall Street Journal suggesting that the IHI numbers were inaccurate. Commenters also started down the path of whether saving the "life" of a severely ill patient who was going to likely die soon anyway was all that important–or at least as important of saving the life of an otherwise young healthy patient.
But beyond questions about the data, there are two crucial related points we must hold onto. First, medical errors are symptoms of poorly designed medical processes, and we know that reducing "muda"–waste in medical care–is an achievable goal. Second, patients are not just vulnerable to physical harm from interacting with the healthcare system, they’re also extremely vulnerable to financial harm caused by that "muda" and facilitated by our dog’s breakfast of an insurance and financing system. These are two sides of the same coin, and efforts like the 100,000 Lives Campaign should be applauded for focusing on at least part of the problem. It would be nice if there was a similar system-wide commitment to concentrate on the whole of the cost and care crisis rather than just one part.