Friday, October 28, 2011

Top 3 Things I've Learned After 18 Months in Healthcare

It's been almost 18 months since I made the move to healthcare, thanks in part to the encouragement I received from my friend, Mark Graban.  In that time, I've learned a lot and I continue to learn everyday.  What have I learned?  Here's my Top 3 list:

  1. The healthcare business is all about people.  In my article "The Human Factor in Healthcare," I discuss how important it is to be agile when it comes to how we approach improvement in healthcare because of the human factor.  This is by far the most important lesson I've learned in healthcare.  Our "product" is the patient, a human being.  Most of our processes are highly dependent upon manual labor, which is performed by human beings.  We have front-line workers (doctors and nurses) with much more education, training, and influence that the average front-line worker in a factory.  In pediatrics, we have to account for the needs of not only the patient, but of the patient's family as well.  In an academic healthcare setting, we have to account for the learning needs of medical students, residents, and fellows.  The human element exists in every industry; it's hugely magnified in healthcare.
  2. The healthcare business is complex.  In my article "10 Complexities in Hospitals," I discuss how many different levels of complexity we encounter in healthcare.  The end-user and the payer are often different entities with completely different goals.  We are highly regulated by national agencies, state agencies, the Joint Commission, and other entities with differing goals.  We implement technology solutions of Rube Goldberg proportions that I've come to believe nobody fully understands.  We have a nearly infinite amount of data at our disposal, of which only a fraction is actually timely, relevant, and easy to use.  Healthcare reform is creating huge paradigm shifts (pardon the business cliche) in every healthcare organization in the land.  Changing priorities are the norm, and it makes things really complex.
  3. The healthcare business can be wonderful.  Many of the people I've met in healthcare have been passionate, committed, highly-intelligent, experienced, interested in learning, focused on serving the needs of the patient, and highly competent.  Not everybody, but a high percentage.  That makes for a wonderful workplace.  Plus, it's just easier to get up in the morning when you know your work might help make a sick child's life a little better, even if indirectly through process improvement or whatever.
Like I said earlier, I've learned a lot (a lot more than is shown here) and I continue to learn everyday.  If you're an engineer, project manager, quality professional, operations manager, or any other type of business professional, you can make the move to healthcare.  Just be ready to focus on people, deal with complexity, and be proud of your work.  Most of all, be ready to continuously learn and improve.