Humanizing Our Healthcare System

It’s difficult to imagine a business more delicate and intimate than healthcare. Yet the reality in today’s corporate hospital world is that many patients feel deeply disconnected and uncared for in a system that often feels aloof, cold and impersonal. The problem is not simple, nor is there a single solution. This daunting challenge is being seriously addressed in the medical world by two champions working to humanize healthcare from the inside—and we’re honored that they’re joining us at TEDMED 2015.

Thomas Lee, Chief Medical Officer for Press Ganey
Thomas Lee, Chief Medical Officer for Press Ganey

One such champion is the quality care pioneer Thomas Lee, who serves as the Chief Medical Officer for Press Ganey, where he leads development of strategies for measuring and improving quality of care. Tom claims that a key healthcare makeover requires recognizing physicians’ empathy as a business asset, and designating patient suffering an avoidable outcome.

Patient experience is an integral quality indicator at Press Ganey, but Tom’s commitment to the concept doesn’t just come from his leadership role there. As a practicing internist/cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Tom recalls how it felt to walk the halls in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. “I saw how everyone, down to the custodial staff, took tremendous pride in the work that they had done to save so many lives,” Tom says. “That experience helped me realize that pride and shame were motivators that greatly exceeded financial incentives in their potential to drive improvement in healthcare,” he shares.

Medical progress has produced “marvelous benefits,” Tom notes, but it “also has side effects – chaos, because there is so much to do, so many people involved, no one with all the information, and no one with full accountability. We focus on financial issues in healthcare all the time, but the bigger challenge is bringing organization to the chaos, so that we can improve quality, efficiency, and safety.”

Those same themes – quality, efficiency and safety – fuel the digital revolution in healthcare. However, this effort doesn’t always work out so well. Renowned UCSF internist, founder of the hospitalist movement, and former chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine, Bob Wachter, tells us that “Healthcare’s digital revolution is making some things better, some worse.”

Bob Wachter, Renowned UCSF internist, founder of the hospitalist movement, and former chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine
Bob Wachter, UCSF internist and founder of the hospitalist movement

Bob values the advancement of “the appreciation in healthcare, over the past 15 years that the outcomes of patients is at least as dependent on the quality of the healthcare system as on the smarts/commitment of the physician. I learned nothing of this paradigm in medical school, yet it now is central to my own career and the way we train future generations of physicians.”

Bob proposes that our “healthcare system needs to deliver better, safer, more satisfying care at a lower cost” and points out that “the only way we’ll make that happen is through use of technology.” Still, “our implementation of technology, to date, has been disappointing. I’m trying to break through the hype to allow us to understand how to implement technology tools so as to improve healthcare value and unlock the potential to improve health.”