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“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot…” Dr Seuss’ The Lorax

September 8, 2011

Through the cacophony of conversations, news stories, scholarly articles, raucous political debates, fist thumping expressions of opinion on what are the problems, obstacles, challenges and solutions in providing quality healthcare to all, a single unifying truth has emerged – we can and need to do better!

But what does “better” really mean? It is not a singular improvement, but is really the result of many improvements. Among the many improvements needed are reductions in costs for healthcare services, and improvements in quality of services. I don’t think anyone would argue that improving costs and quality wouldn’t make for a “better” healthcare system for all.

As we embark on this quest to do “better” and make plans to address these issues we should find measuring our progress relatively easy for cost improvements, but what about quality? Costs can be tracked with monetary measurements already in place. Quality is a different issue.

Before we can measure quality, we need to agree on what it is! The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has defined quality as “…desired health outcomes…consistent with current professional knowledge.” In other words, if the end game, the outcome of a health related service is not an unexpected negative, than it must be a quality service.

Interesting, so if you get the best outcome you can expect based on what you know today, you have achieved the goal – provision of a quality healthcare service. It sounds a lot like what my mother would say to me as I left for school each morning – “do your best!” Well, I don’t think that doing our best is good enough. I think we need to find ways to make our best “better”. So the challenge is – how do we do that?

Short of discovering the “new” penicillin of the 21st century, what can those of us who are responsible for or interested in or part of the workforce do? Well, I believe we are uniquely positioned to do a lot! Since healthcare is a service that is not provided through automation, but is delivered through us – the workforce – we are the mechanism for the delivery of healthcare services. It is through our minds and hearts and hands that healthcare services are delivered. Therefore, making improvements in the delivery of healthcare services requires we look to ourselves for answers.

So what is it about us – the workforce – that can improve healthcare outcomes? Is it the number of staff scheduled? Is it the mix of skills or experience? Is it the education levels of staff? Is it the level of fatigue we are experiencing? Is it the length of our shifts? Is it the frequency or pattern of shift rotation? What about the interpersonal relationships in the care team? What is it about us that influence’s outcomes?

I know that we need to know more. And I also know that our automated workforce management tools – Time & Attendance systems, Staff Scheduling tools, Analytics software, Human Resource systems and Absence Management solutions – are a treasure trove of data that in all probability holds the answer to how we can be “better”.

We need to use the data that our automated workforce management tools produce not only to “do our best” managing today, but to give us insight into how to get “better” tomorrow by unlocking the workforce data and viewing it along side our quality measurements. It’s up to us! As Dr Seuss’ The Lorax said:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

So it’s Time to Care about how we get “better”. Where do we start? What should we look at first?

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