When we are young, every experience is unique. No one, we think, has ever loved the way we have, suffered as we have or faced the troubles we have. No one understands us.
As we age, we discover that we share knowledge, feelings and challenges with our ancestors, peers and-believe it or not-parents.
The healthcare field in many ways is still in its youth. Despite all the change of recent decades, it is still evolving from a cottage industry into a 21st-century enterprise. As such, healthcare executives could learn a lot from their counterparts in other industries.
That assertion, by the way, comes not from ignorant outsiders but from healthcare executives during recent meetings with this magazine's staff. And their opinion takes on added relevance in light of the drive to improve quality and reduce medical errors. On p. 30 of this issue, Washington reporter Ed Lovern looks at the Leapfrog Group, a business coalition determined to decrease hospital mistakes. The effort was sparked by General Motors Corp. Chairman Jack Smith, who read a disturbing report on the impact of medical errors on GM employees. He petitioned the Business Roundtable to fund Leapfrog. These companies opened their checkbooks in the belief that the healthcare industry needed to be prodded into action. Privately, some hospital executives agree, saying the field is insular and tradition-bound.
Healthcare could help itself and its customers by broadening the scope of its learning. People in the industry are fond of saying that healthcare differs from other businesses, and they are right-to a degree. But it is not totally different, and many innovations from other industries could be applied to healthcare.
GM and its fellow automakers are no strangers to quality concerns. When foreign competitors challenged their supremacy with better-engineered cars, these companies rethought the way they designed and built their products. The airlines struggled to ensure passenger safety. Hotels found new ways to make guests comfortable. Banks embraced computer technology.
In short, most of the difficulties healthcare now faces have been dealt with in some form by other businesses. Providers should tap into the wealth of experience that lies beyond hospitals, medical schools and health-management programs. One source is close at hand: governing boards. Trustees from other industries could offer invaluable help. But a new study by the Governance Institute (May 21, p. 24) shows that boards are changing slowly and falling well short of maximum effectiveness.
It's time for healthcare to start talking with other businesses. When it comes to problems, it is not alone.