This is Atul Gawande, writing about The Cheesecake Factory in The New Yorker:
You may know the chain: a hundred and sixty restaurants with a catalogue-like menu that, when I did a count, listed three hundred and eight dinner items (including the forty-nine on the “Skinnylicious” menu), plus a hundred and twenty-four choices of beverage.
How many different dinners — say with two food items and one beverage — can you draw from 308 food choices and 124 beverages? I used to know how to do this. It must be in the millions. So how do you make that work? Timing is everything:
Computer monitors positioned head-high every few feet flashed the orders for a given station. Luz showed me the touch-screen tabs for the recipe for each order and a photo showing the proper presentation. The recipe has the ingredients on the left part of the screen and the steps on the right. A timer counts down to a target time for completion. The background turns from green to yellow as the order nears the target time and to red when it has exceeded it.
The restaurant doesn’t just get plates on the table, however. It aims for perfection:
I visited Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi today – an institution with 1,531 beds and 145% occupancy rate. Yes, 145%. You do the math. A lot of bed sharing and asking families to bring in cots. It’s right across the street from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the premier public healthcare institution in India. While both AIIMS and Safdarjung are run by the federal government, only AIIMS is renowned for famous specialists, world class facilities, and an international reputation to boot. Safdarjung doesn’t suffer such burdens – its specialists are not well known, facilities are dilapidated, and you probably have never heard of it.
I spent several hours walking around, talking to lots of physicians, visiting ICUs and cath labs. I visited the outpatient department where 7,000 people show up every day, many lining up the night before, to get a ticket by 11 a.m., when registration closes and those who haven’t gotten a ticket are out of luck. In the ER, there was a line of between 50 and 100 people waiting to get rabies shots. This is the hospital where every poor person in Delhi unfortunate enough to get a dog bite is sent. They have the rabies serum. Most other public hospitals do not.
Safdarjung has “efficiency” baked in. In a typical year, they do 800 cardiac surgeries, 2,000 angioplasties, 3,000 echocardiograms, and 100,000 EKGs. They see tens of thousands of patients in the cardiology clinic. They have 4 (yes, four) full-time cardiologists on staff. The rest of the work is done by medical residents, who call when they get into trouble. Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which probably doesn’t have one quarter the volume of this place, has 140 cardiologists. The patients at Safdarjung pay essentially nothing. Even their medications are free. For those who are not extremely poor (and I doubt there are many non-poor patients who go to Safdarjung), you do have to pay for your own devices. Need a stent? Bare metal ones cost $200 to $1000. Drug eluting stents are $1500 to $2500. You get to decide which one you want. They have a chart with pictures and prices that looks a lot like a dinner menu. Continue reading…
In the battle over health care that lies ahead, how strongly will the public rally around the need for innovation in confronting health care costs? Does the public view innovation as relevant to the challenge in the first place?
These aren’t idle questions. The news that growth in overall national health care spending has been moderating has raised speculation that innovations in payment and health care delivery are already paying off, notwithstanding the unquestioned impact of the Great Recession.
Looking ahead, uncertainty over the fate of the Affordable Care Act and the likelihood of federal budget cuts yet to come has many fearing that innovations will be vulnerable. And it is not just federal spending that will be at risk. Hospitals and health plans will all be watching their margins carefully to assess how far and how fast they can keep making investments that support innovation (such as investments in healthcare IT, analytics and care coordination) but that may take months or years to generate a return.
All of which places the role of innovation in controlling costs center stage. After all, this is what undergirds the Triple Aim that so many health care leaders have embraced as the only realistic alternative to arbitrary cutbacks in health care services and spending. Health care leaders can defend innovation if they have public support. But do they?
I’ve been saying it for years now, it’s the theme of Healthcare Beyond Reform: Doing It Right For Half The Cost — and now it’s even hit the editorial pages of the NY Times: A June 2 editorial, “Treating You Better For Less,” trumpets the “good news” about a “grass-roots movement” using “already proven techniques” that “could transform the entire system in ways that will benefit all Americans.”
“It is a measure of how dysfunctional the system has become,” says the editorial, “that these successful experiments — based on medical sense, sound research and efficiencies — seem so revolutionary.” It goes on to describe several of the kinds of new ventures in efficiency and effectiveness that make up the core of Healthcare Beyond Reform, in different healthcare systems and health insurers across the country.
The news here is not that these things are happening, or that they are so widespread that they can be called a “grass-roots movement.” The real news here is that the movement has gained such momentum that big, mainstream media organizations outside of healthcare, well beyond the policy wonk orbit, have begun to surface what may turn out to be the biggest story of our times: The largest sector of our economy turning inside out, like some movie transformer, on the way toward providing all of us with far better care for far less than we could possibly imagine. Better healthcare for half the cost.
This July will mark the 16th anniversary of the installation of our electronic medical record.
Yup. I am that weird.
Over the first 10-14 years of my run as doctor uber-nerd, I believed that widespread adoption of EHR would be one of main things to drive efficiency in health care. I told anyone I could corner about our drive to improve the quality of our care, while keeping our cash-flow out of the red. I preached the fact that it is possible for a small, privately owned practice to successfully adopt EHR while increasing revenue. I heard people say it was only possible within a large hospital system, but saw many of those installations decrease office efficiency and quality of care. I heard people say primary care doctors couldn’t afford EHR, while we had not only done well with our installation, but did so with one of the more expensive products at the time. To me, it was just a matter of time before everyone finally saw that I was right.
The passage of the EHR incentive program (aka “meaningful use” criteria) was a huge validation for me: EHR was so good that the government would pay doctors to adopt it. I figured that once docs finally could implement an EHR without threatening their financial solvency, they would all become believers like me.
But something funny happened on the way to meaningful use: I changed my mind. No, I didn’t stop thinking that EHR was a very powerful tool that could transform care. I didn’t pine for the days of paper charts (whatever they are). I certainly didn’t mind it when I got the check from the government for doing something I had already done without any incentive. What changed was my belief that government incentives could make things better. They haven’t. In fact, they’ve made things much worse.