If you hear the phrase “burning platform,” you probably think it has a negative connotation. Obviously it’s not particularly pleasant or comforting to envision the ground on which you’re standing catching on fire.
But in the case of health care, I think having a burning platform is a very good thing.
I first heard the phrase “burning platform” from Robert Matt, Vice President at Hancock Regional Hospital, who was teaching a graduate course I took called Lean in Healthcare. I bluntly asked him why LEAN principles which had proven to be so transformative in other industries and had even showed value in a few limited cases in health care had not really become the norm in the health industry. His response was that there had never been a “burning platform” that created a sense of urgency for the industry to change. The U.S. health industry was too comfortable (dare I say fat and happy) to change its practices.
But as plenty of research has demonstrated, things are not fine in the U.S. health care industry. We pay far too much and do not receive the requisite value in return for what we pay in terms of safety and outcomes when compared with the health systems of other nations.
Fortunately, it looks like the industry is beginning to notice some warmth under its feet as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. In short, the decline in per-patient reimbursement expected as a result of the law is forcing hospitals and physicians to take more drastic steps toward improving efficiency, quality and safety. Indiana University Health, the largest health system in Indiana, is aiming for savings of more than $1 billion per year.
Of course, some of those savings will be the result of layoffs, and I certainly can relate to losing a job through no fault of my own. The health industry is unusually labor-intensive compared to many other industries, and so it’s impossible to cut costs significantly without cutting people.
I’m afraid that these pink slips will create skepticism toward implementing lean principles in other places, but this skepticism is unwarranted. Had it not been for the lean innovations made at IU Health to improve processes, even more people would have lost their jobs in order to reach the $1 billion goal. Lean is not about cutting people, it’s about helping people to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. It’s about problem solving, not just (or even primarily) cost-cutting.
But think about it this way — when the industry saves, we as patients save. We save on our medical bills and even on our health insurance premiums because health insurance premiums are a function of the cost of claims. Plus, I have a feeling a lot of those people who received pink slips will land on their feet, just doing something different within the industry to accommodate the influx of new patients.
Nobody every said progress would be easy or pleasant all the time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Sometimes progress forces us to light a few fires and burn a few platforms.