In further celebration of Nurses Week, it’s worth discussing this TIME article about the “Killer Burden on Nurses” under the Affordable Care Act.
The point I’m raising and highlighting here is not meant to be political or partisan, but really one about nursing workloads, management decisions, and what’s right for patients.
We’ve seen recently that American healthcare spending is UP about 10%(the biggest increase in spending since 1980) – mainly due to newly insured patients getting care. The point is to get people care and treatment, but maybe the law should have been called the “More People Getting Healthcare Act?” That’s a noble goal.
From the TIME article, an opinion piece written by a nurse from California:
“… I worry that the switch may compromise the quality of the care our patients receive.”
The nurse talks about patients who are sicker due to not getting good healthcare previously. These patients require more attention and more nursing time.
In any workplace, the staffing levels should be set based on the total workload. Using “number of patients” is not a good basis, since the acuity of patients (and the resulting workloads) aren’t equal. Not every patient is the same.
Hospitals, due to other industries, do a really poor job of “industrial engineering” work that would establish the right staffing levels based on workloads.
On April 29, Dr. Daniel Croviotto published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, “A Doctor’s Declaration of Independence,” in which he argued that it is time to “defy healthcare mandates issued by bureaucrats not in the healing profession.”
Dr. Croviotto does a good job of articulating his frustration with the increasingly burdensome bureaucracy and regulations placed on care. Many physicians and nurses share his frustration. I once did, until I saw a way out of the cynicism and frustration – a way that can improve the quality and lower the cost of care for all Americans.
No matter how misguided we think the federal government is in its electronic health record mandate or other requirements, simply defying mandates as Dr. Croviotto proposes is not likely to accomplish much. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence knew it was only an initial step toward ridding the country of tyranny. They had to create a new vision for a better, more effective government.
Similarly, the medical profession needs to move beyond cynicism to create a vision for a better, more effective healthcare system.
Sorry to get all Katie Couric on you, but I’m going to have a colonoscopy on Friday. I turned 40 last October and I have some family history that leads my doctor to get one done now rather than at 50.
Unlike Katie, I won’t be broadcasting mine live, but I’ll share some articles and reflections on the process and, being process focused, what could go wrong. It’s a very necessary procedure, but there are, sadly, some very unnecessary and preventable risks.
According to Dr. Wikipedia (backed by journals):
This procedure has a low (0.35%) risk of serious complications
That’s about 1 in 300 patients, put another way.
For those of you who speak Six Sigma, that’s a 99.65% first time yield and a 4.2 sigma level.
That’s not going to scare me away.
Maybe I should have asked what my physician’s complication rates are. What are the complication rates at the surgical center where this will be done? Is this safer than being at a full-blown hospital or doesn’t it matter? Should I be more of an “engaged patient?”
Should I have asked more questions of my primary care provider? Why did she refer me to this GI specialist? Is he a “Best” doctor? Does that matter?
If I treat them as a supplier (respectfully), should I be able to walk the process and see what they do to prevent, say, instrument or scope disinfection errors?
Should I have asked:
- Show me how you disinfect the equipment
- Show me your training records for the people doing this work
- Show me your equipment maintenance records
- How do you verify that the work is being done properly?
- Have you had any complaints or incidents in the past?
I had my pre-procedure phone call on Monday. Maybe I should follow up and ask a few of these questions, even if I can’t go “walk the gemba” to check things out myself. What would you do?
Of course, I didn’t have data or information available to me to know:
- Which specialist is best at this?
- Who has the highest or lowest complication rates?
- What are the prices for different doctors or locations?
I don’t know how a busy person makes an informed decision.
A few weeks ago, a middle-aged man decided to tweet about his mother’s illness from her bedside. The tweets went viral and became the subject of a national conversation. The man, of course, was NPR anchorman Scott Simon, and his reflections about his mother’s illness and ultimate death are poignant, insightful, and well worth your time.
Those same days, and unaware of Simon’s real-time reports, I also found myself caring for my hospitalized mother, and I made the same decision – to tweet from the bedside. (As with Simon’s mom, mine didn’t quite understand what Twitter is, but trusted her son that this was a good thing to do.) Being with my mother during a four-day inpatient stay offered a window into how things actually work at my own hospital, where I’ve practiced for three decades, and into the worlds of hospital care and patient safety, my professional passions. In this blog, I’ll take advantage of the absence of a 140-character limit to explore some of the lessons I learned.
First a little background. My mother is a delightful 77-year-old woman who lives with my 83-year-old father in Boca Raton, Florida. She has been generally healthy through her life. Two years ago, a lung nodule being followed on serial CT scans was diagnosed as cancer, and she underwent a right lower lobectomy, which left her mildly short of breath but with a reasonably good prognosis. In her left lower lung is another small nodule; it too is now is being followed with serial scans. While that remaining nodule may yet prove cancerous, it does not light up on PET scan nor has it grown in a year. So we’re continuing to track it, with crossed fingers.
Unfortunately, after a challenging recovery from her lung surgery, about a year ago Mom developed a small bowel obstruction (SBO). For those of you who aren’t clinical, this is one of life’s most painful events: the bowel, blocked, begins to swell as its contents back up, eventually leading to intractable nausea and vomiting, and excruciating pain. Bowel obstruction is rare in a “virgin” abdomen – the vast majority of cases result from scar tissue (“adhesions”) that formed after prior surgery. In my mother’s case, of course, we worried that the SBO was a result of metastatic lung cancer, but the investigation showed only scar tissue, probably from a hysterectomy done decades earlier.
I sometimes explain to medical students that they are entering a profession being transformed, like coal to diamonds, under the pressure of a new mandate. “The world is going to push us, relentlessly and without mercy, to deliver the highest quality, safest, most satisfying care at the lowest cost,” I’ll say gravely, trying to get their attention.
“What exactly were you trying to do before?” some have asked, in that wonderful way that smart students blend naiveté with blinding insight.
It is pretty amazing that healthcare has been insulated from the business pressures that everybody from Yahoo! to my father’s garment business have experienced since the days of Adam Smith. We experienced a bit of this pressure in the mid-1990s, when pundits declared healthcare inflation “unsustainable” (sound familiar?) and we invented managed care to slay it. We know how that story ended – the public and professional backlash against HMOs defanged the managed care tiger to the point that it could barely produce a “meow.” The backlash was followed by a 15-year run during which efforts to slash healthcare costs have been remarkably meager.
That run has ended.
Luckily, while we’ve been let off the hook on cost-reduction, we’ve not been given a free pass on improvement. Beginning with the Institute of Medicine reports on safety (2000) and quality (2001), we have been under growing pressure to improve the numerator of the value equation: patient safety, quality of care, and patient satisfaction. Particularly for those of us who work in hospitals, we now feel this pressure from many angles: from accreditors (more vigorous and unannounced Joint Commission inspections, residency duty hour limits), transparency (Medicare’s Hospital Compare), comparative measurement (HealthGrades, Leapfrog, Consumer Reports and many other hospital rankings), and, most recently, payment policies (no pay for “never events,” penalties for readmissions, value-based purchasing, and “Meaningful Use” standards for IT).
These initiatives have created an increasingly robust business case to improve. Hospitals everywhere have responded with new resources, committees, ways of analyzing data, educational programs, computer systems, and more.
Whenever I talk about the spectacular work Brent James and his colleagues have done with process improvement at Intermountain Health, someone says, “But they are different.” These comments are often based on prejudice. It reminds me of the folks in the US automobile industry who initially said of Toyota’s use of Lean principles, “It will never work in America. Those Japanese are different. They are so much more compliant than Americans.” Then, those competitors discovered that Toyota factories in the US, with American workers, also effectively used Lean. And ate their lunch.
What do they say about IH? They talk about the homogeneity of the population in Utah, meaning that there is a predominantly Mormon population. They subtly suggest that Mormons are somehow more complaint with regard to health care treatment, have fewer health problems, or that the doctors are more likely to follow orders, or something equally foolish. Here’s the more accurate description:
The IH network of twenty-three hospitals and 160 clinics provides more than half of all health care delivered in the region. Intermountain’s hospitals range from critical-access facilities in rural areas to large, urban teaching hospitals. Although Intermountain has an employed physician group and a health insurance plan, the majority of its care is performed by independent, community-based physicians and is paid for by government and commercial payers.