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:
You got me. I still won’t cop to eating at a Cheesecake Factory, but I am all about the Apple Store. In fact, I’m a teensy bit over the top about it. Seriously, I beg of you—could we, please, have just a little genius bar with our health care?
I’m no doubt somewhat of a freak (I got up at 2:55 a.m. ET on September 19th to, you know, pre-order the iPhone 6). A month or so later, I was more than ready to upgrade my aging iPad2, so obviously at the first opportunity I ordered a new iPad Air 2 online from the Apple website. I requested pick-up at my local Apple Store—because it’s convenient—and, well, I just love going there. A few minutes after I made my online purchase, I received an email informing me that the store staff was ready for me. My new baby was waiting! Serious goose bumps.
I made my way to the mall. It was pretty crowded, as usual. I walked right past The Cheesecake Factory, into the mall, turned left and into the gleaming Apple Store—smiling, not quite skipping, all along. Several staff members greeted me almost the minute I arrived. I explained why I was there. When she understood my reason for coming to the store, the first staff person handed me off to another. I showed him the email on my iPhone. We traded some numbers. He entered those on his iPhone and went back to get my waiting . . . Air 2!!
In the current issue of The New Yorker, surgeon Atul Gawande provocatively suggests that medicine needs to become more like The Cheesecake Factory – more standardized, better quality control, with a touch of room for slight customization and innovation.
The basic premise, of course, isn’t new, and seems closely aligned with what I’ve heard articulated from a range of policy experts (such as Arnold Milstein) and management experts (such as Clayton Christensen, specifically in his book The Innovator’s Prescription).
The core of the argument is this: the traditional idea that your doctor is an expert who knows what’s best for you is likely wrong, and is both dangerous and costly. Instead, for most conditions, there are a clear set of guidelines, perhaps even algorithms, that should guide care, and by not following these pathways, patients are subjected to what amounts to arbitrary, whimsical care that in many cases is unnecessary and sometimes even harmful – and often with the best of intentions.
According to this view, the goal of medicine should be to standardize where possible, to the point where something like 90% of all care can be managed by algorithms – ideally, according to many, not requiring a physician’s involvement at all (most care would be administered by lower-cost providers). A small number of physicians still would be required for the difficult cases – and to develop new algorithms.
In Healthcare Beyond Reform: Doing it Right For Half The Cost I lay out the five strategies that healthcare must adopt, and is adopting in various ways and places, to make healthcare better and cheaper at the same time.
Strategy Five is “Rebuild Every Process.” It’s about “lean manufacturing,” smart standardization, measurement, “big data,” evidence-based design, teaching the innovation, all the detailed, rigorous, hard attention to intelligent process re-design that healthcare is so obviously lacking — and that is absolutely necessary if healthcare is to improve its abysmal cost/benefit ratio.
Now in The New Yorker writer/surgeon Atul Gawande has done a brilliant turn on this theme, by diving into, of all things, the processes of a restaurant chain, comparing them to the duplicative, chaotic, mistake-prone processes of traditional healthcare, and finally to some examples of smart, rebuilt healthcare processes that drive down costs while killing fewer people.
Gawande shows how The Cheesecake Factory manages to deliver 308 dinner menu items and 124 beverage choices to exacting standards, on time, from fresh ingredients, with only 2.5% wastage, in a linen-napkin and silverware environment, at lower cost, then compares that with the disconnected, uncoordinated, messy environment that is most of US healthcare. He details several examples of how new drives toward standardization and control of processes in the operating room and the emergency department, for instance, are making a difference, lowering costs and improving not only outcomes but the patient experience, all at the same time.