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Health Care, Meet Gall’s Law

By KIM BELLARD

I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without knowing about Gall’s Law (thanks to @niquola for tweeting it!).  For those of you similarly unaware, John Gall was a pediatrician who, seemingly in his spare time, wrote Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail in 1975.  His “law,” contained therein, is:

Have you ever heard of anything that applied so perfectly to our healthcare system? 

As anyone who has been reading my prior articles may know, I’m a big believer in simple.  I’ve advocated that healthcare’s billing and paperwork should be much simpler, that “less is more” when it comes to design,  that healthcare should first do simple better but, above all,  that healthcare should stop doing stupid things.  I’ve equated the ever-increasing intricacies of our healthcare system to the epicycles that kept getting added to the Ptolemaic theory in a desperate attempt to justify it. 

Few would disagree that the U.S. healthcare system is complex.  Healthcare systems in general have evolved towards more complex, but the U.S. system takes complexity to extremes, with its thousands of payors, its powerful pharma/medical device industry, and its highly concentrated hospital markets (including ownership of physician practices), among other things. 

Simple isn’t always better, of course.  Life is complicated and so is our health, but, come on: how many people can explain why PBMs exist, what their heath insurance plan actually covers, how their health care bill was arrived at, or why we spend so much time in the healthcare system just waiting?  Literally no one understands our healthcare system.

It shouldn’t be that way.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  But it is.

Some pundits argue we don’t even have “a system” but, rather, thousand or even millions of smaller health-related markets that co-exist but don’t really work together.  For anyone who doubts that, try to explain the presence of workers compensation healthcare or why dental is at best a separate form of coverage (last I looked, the mouth was part of the body).  Try to explain why child care is most definitely not part of healthcare but home care is – depending, of course, on whether it is “custodial” or not.   Silos abound.

It could be argued that healthcare started with a simple system that “worked.”  Some are nostalgic for the days when people saw their family doctor, paid their doctor, and that was it.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  Of course, those doctors couldn’t really do all that much for their patients and didn’t really get paid all that much, so to say that it “worked” for either party is debatable. 

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