One of the biggest debates in healthcare today involves the issue of standardization.
For those who dwell in a mythical past when all-knowing physicians like Dr. Marcus Welby imparted their medical wisdom developed over decades of experience to individual patients, the idea that data-driven experts can develop algorithms for care that are based on the collective outcomes of thousands or millions of patients is anathema.
Such standardization is the very opposite of individualized medicine or patient-centered care, they assert. Every patient is unique, so every care plan must be unique, too.
This ignores the experience of every other complex enterprise, whether it's manufacturing computer chips, flying airliners or delivering a complex and variegated menu to exacting standards in a chain restaurant, as Dr. Atul Gawande wrote in the New Yorker a few years ago after visiting a Cheesecake Factory.
“In medicine, too, we are trying to deliver a range of services to millions of people at a reasonable cost and with a consistent level of quality,” he wrote. “Unlike the Cheesecake Factory, we haven't figured out how. Our costs are soaring, the service is typically mediocre, and the quality is unreliable. Every clinician has his or her own way of doing things, and the rates of failure and complication (not to mention the costs) for a given service routinely vary by a factor of two or three, even within the same hospital.”
But that is less and less true at healthcare systems across the U.S. And the organizations recognized this year on the 100 Top Hospitals list by Truven Health Analytics showed that standardization leads not just to better care, but to substantial cost savings for patients and payers.
As Modern Healthcare reporter Maria Castellucci reports, this year's top hospitals spent $1,733 less per case in 2014 compared with their peers in a cross-section of key service lines by focusing in part on standardization and the use of data to lower costs. Read on to discover how the drive for greater efficiency can lead to higher quality as well as lower costs.