Anyone who has been consumed with competing activities like watching paint dry may have missed the exciting announcement last month that the Coalition for Healthcare eStandards, after only four years of discussion, has agreed on the Global Locator Number as the universal standard to identify hospitals.
For those who have not been rigorously following the progress of CHeS, a group comprised of GPOs, e-commerce companies and leading healthcare suppliers, the GLN is a 13-digit number used to identify a specific location. The coalition considers establishing this standard a giant leap forward in the effort to support electronic commerce in the hospital industry. The GLN is already in use by retail giants such as Wal-Mart and is considered a global standard in 23 industries worldwide, including more than 200,000 companies in the U.S., the coalition says.
The registry of GLNs was developed and is maintained by an outfit called the Uniform Code Council. For an unspecified fee, the UCC has promised to initiate programs with healthcare supply chain players to adopt the Healthcare GLN Registry, a list of more than 6,600 healthcare facilities in North America.
CHeS says hospital e-commerce has been stymied by a quantum heap of identification codes assigned by individual suppliers to hospitals. Apparently, product information that is passed back and forth among members of the supply chain is constantly getting hung up on the mishmash of codes.
Please don't ask Outliers to explain how, but adoption of the standard will supposedly save billions in healthcare costs by ending waste and inefficiency. But a consensus by CHeS to adopt the standard doesn't automatically guarantee a home run. Suppliers have to get on board and agree to give up the unique numbering systems they hold near and dear to their hearts. As a result, the announcement by CHeS was quickly followed by an endorsement from the Health Industry Group Purchasing Association, and GPOs are readying a national roadshow to preach the gospel. Check your local listings.
The national doctor debt
The Association of American Medical Colleges has announced a new initiative to address a severe, fast-growing malady that has afflicted many of America's brightest young doctors: Let's call it postgraduate-debt disorder.
While it may serve as small solace to recent graduates struggling to make ends meet, the AAMC-which represents all 126 U.S. medical schools-says it's now time to focus on the dual problem of high tuition costs and skyrocketing debt.
In a report released late last month, the Washington-based association said medical education debt was a whopping 4.5 times higher in 2003 than it was in 1984, in large part because the average tuition and fees are nearly three times as high in private schools and almost four times as high in public schools. Graduates of private medical schools in 2003 accumulated a median debt of $135,000 (up from just $27,000 in 1984), while public school graduates owed about $100,000 (compared with $22,000 in 1984), the study said.
The AAMC's new Working Group on Student Educational Costs and Debt, which will meet three times this summer before issuing a series of recommendations, will include students, residents, a medical economist and representatives of student affairs and financial aid offices. Even though the report concludes that a career in medicine "remains an excellent investment" despite stagnant salaries in recent years, officials are concerned that tuition costs and the prospects of crushing debt could lead to serious problems in the future, especially as the profession struggles to increase its diversity. "We must make a concerted effort to ensure that medical education is within reach of all qualified students," says Jordan Cohen, president of the AAMC.
Data released last month on the woeful state of the nation's overall health literacy highlighted the dire need for innovation in health education. Nearly half of adults in the U.S.-almost 90 million people-have difficulty understanding and acting upon the health information they are given by providers and the media, according to two reports issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Institute of Medicine.
Maybe the agencies should have directed the nation's attention to Memorial Hospital & Health System in South Bend, Ind., which has been winning kudos for its health education efforts for nearly a decade. Instead, it falls to management guru Tom Peters to profile Memorial's work this month in a new 60-minute PBS television special, "Tom Peters: Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age."
The coverage is really completing a circle that began when Peters' earlier work, theproject50, was circulated by Memorial executives to staff, with the assignment to use that book's ideas about reinventing work to do a better job of educating children about health.
The result was a one-of-a-kind, 12,000-square-foot children's museum, which the system designed with recommendations from local residents. At the interactive, hands-on HealthWorks! Kids' Museum, which now receives 38,000 visits a year, kids learn how to take care of themselves. The museum's curriculum is based on an "edu-tainment" environment that teaches children how their bodies work and the consequences of what can happen down the road if they neglect their health now. Exhibits present choices and behaviors that lead to optimum health.
The system also has developed a HealthWorks! Hummer (See picture), which travels to school and community events to deliver health education programs such as "Fumes of Doom-the hazards of smoking and substance abuse." The system is looking to market its educational programs to other hospitals around the country.