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Move away from disease-care to make healthcare matter

September 25th, 2013

by Lynn McVey

When Jeff Daniels recently won his Emmy Award, he quoted American playwright Lanford Wilson who said, "Whatever you do with your career, make it matter and make it count."

At my hospital's monthly orientation of new employees, I tell them something similar. I tell them what they have chosen to do is our most honored profession. I tell them no matter where they work in this hospital, they are a member of the team that takes care of sick people and saves lives.

Can their non-healthcare friends say that? Nope. When you choose to work in healthcare, you do something that matters and that counts.

For me, there is no more noble a career than healthcare. We are there to clean up the blood, confront grief-stricken family members, hold the hand of someone dying, congratulate an exhausted but happy new mom, soothe a frightened child, expose ourselves to virus and germs, and clean up vomit or worse. An accountant or waitress might ask why anyone, in their right mind, would enter this crazed profession.

My answer is always the same. We had no choice. We are wired this way.

[More:]

I had the privilege and honor to speak at CHI/Optima's Leadership Retreat last week in Monterey, Calif. The patient-safety champion Robert Wachter, M.D., was a speaker. He analogized medical errors like this: 240,000 patients were killed last year by preventable medical errors. If healthcare was the aviation industry, that would equal five jumbo jets crashing each week. Would we even have an aviation industry if five planes crashed every week? Who would ever fly again with those odds? Using that analogy sounds outrageous but that's the risk patients take when they enter our doors.

From 1965 till now, we were on the wrong train. We were on the train to self-combusting. In essence, Medicare created an assured-payment industry that triggered an explosion of over expansion of our beloved healthcare industry. By 1975 we had doubled the number of hospital beds in this country. The single-slice CT was created. Then a faster, 4-slice CT replaced the single slice. Then the 8-slice replaced the 4-slice. This continued until a 128-slice CT went to market. This example continued in many areas of healthcare where Americans were led to believe bigger, faster, more expensive meant better quality.

Whenever someone tells me they go to the best doctor/dentist/hospital in the country, I ask "How do you know that?" The tilt of their head emulating Scooby-Doo when he gets stumped tells me they don't know. As a kid I got stumped when I saw a sign that read "World's Best Hamburger." How do they know that, my five-year old brain pondered? Did an army of chefs from all over the world taste every single hamburger on this planet and then in agreement, voted for this particular one?

I sound like the lunatic newsman in the movie "Network" when he yelled, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" I'm so mad at everyone, including myself for quietly watching our adored healthcare system slowly disintegrate. For years we watched as intelligent leaders spoke without evidence, managed without metrics, and made decisions without facts. For years we wasted billions of dollars on devices, equipment and salaries that could heal the rarest of diseases, but couldn't keep us healthy. We haven't had a healthcare system in the United States for years. What we created is a disease-care system and it has failed us all.

How do we get back on track? Thankfully, we've begun by giving the public the evidence, metrics and facts they need to start making intelligent decisions about their doctors, dentists, hospitals and treatments. Evidence-based medicine and evidence-based management are the Holy Grails to change disease-care back into healthcare. And with that hope in mind, I fall in love with this honored profession all over again because it matters and it counts.

Lynn McVey serves as CEO and president of Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, an acute care, 230-bed hospital in New Jersey

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