My wife Mary and I recently got a series of early morning calls alerting us to the declining health of Mary’s mom, who was in her 90s. She died later that week. We were stricken and so sad, but took comfort that she died with dignity and good care on her own terms, and at her home in San Francisco.
Ten years ago, we received a very different early morning call, about my father. An otherwise healthy and vigorous 72-year-old, Dad had fallen at home. Presuming he’d had a stroke, paramedics took him to a hospital with a neurosurgery speciality rather than to the university trauma center. That decision proved fatal.
A physician in Seattle at the time, I arrived the next day to find Dad in the intensive care unit on a ventilator. Dad’s head CT revealed a massive intracranial hemorrhage. Dad also had a large, obvious contusion on his forehead.
The following day, the physicians asked to remove Dad from the ventilator. He died that night. We were profoundly devastated by his death and upset with the care he’d received.
Our family wasn’t interested in blame or lawsuits. We did, however, want answers: Why hadn’t Dad been treated for a traumatic injury from a fall? Shouldn’t he have had timely surgery to relieve pressure from bleeding? What went wrong?
I’ve spent the last decade searching for answers, for myself and countless others, to questions about how to improve health care. I’ve had the honor of working with many people pushing health care toward high value, at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation(RWJF) and elsewhere.
We’ve worked hard to find solutions. We all get it: The health care problem is a big, complex one without silver bullet answers. Still, we’ve made incredible progress with efforts like RWJF’s Aligning Forces for Quality Initiative in which community alliances work to improve the value of their health care.
We’re searching for ways to help us all make smarter health care decisions. We’re helping health care professionals improve and patients and families be more proactive. We’re exploring the price and cost of care, and ways to automate health care information with technology.
And importantly, we’re working to align the incentives that health care professionals need to support and deliver great care. We strongly believe that unless we reward great results, we won’t get them. That means payment reform, with a focus on financial incentives for those who hunt for waste, resolve safety problems, sustain improvement, and, most of all, innovate to save more lives.
But do financial incentives to promote and reward behavior work?