Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Boeing to the Rescue?

A recent piece in JAMA by Pronovost is well worth reading. In it he contrasts the way we design (or rather fail to design) healthcare, especially in relation to equipment, (haphazard, no systems thinking, individuals insisting on their preferred piece of technology etc) versus the way airlines buy planes. They do not buy planes, each of which has different toilets seats, lifebelts etc. They buy a standard plane, for economic as well as safety (reduce variation ) reasons. He suggests in an American context that what is needed is a systems integrator, similar to Boeing. It is interesting that national healthcare systems, despite being in a better position to act in this way, singularly fail to do so.
I have worked in intensive care units where the number of different types of ventilator exceeded the daily census of ventilated children; where the choice of a specific ventilator that a child was placed on depended on which physician was on call. This type of variability is hugely damaging, expensive, a safety risk and results in poor training. Compounding this is a perceived need for hospitals to get the latest new thing, often resulting in a situation where there are insufficient patient numbers to allow all team members to develop the required expertise and experience which are necessary to deliver the best outcomes.
While I agree with his arguments, I think he fails to develop the logical conclusion, in that the entire system, inside and outside hospitals needs to be standardized as much as possible.

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