This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
My colleagues and I had the good fortune of spending a few days in the Salt Lake Valley last week as our company hosted its annual share owners meeting. Among the many places around the world GE does business, for more than 30 years GE Healthcare's surgery business has been proud to call Utah home.
What our time here has also reminded us of is the incredible disparity and variability in how health care is delivered in this country and by whom. It remains critically important that Americans continue to think through how their health care delivery system works and how it does not work. It is clear that a sweeping policy change will not be enough to repair a health care system that's plagued by high costs, inefficiencies, and quality issues.
Variance is evil. It is bad for your health, it is bad for your local doctor's business, and it is bad for the U.S. health care system. As someone who has spent a career in a variety of businesses, I can see that the fundamental driver of cost and quality problems in health care is the inconsistency of delivery and outcomes region-to-region, state-to-state, and even hospital-to-hospital.
But I also know that the part of the business which is perceived to be less exciting process and information technology can drive revolutionary change.
The good news is that certain pioneering institutions already are using IT and process engineering to reduce costs and improve health outcomes. They approach health care as a science, not an art. They've used data to target areas of poor performance and waste, and they've employed technology to transform their systems. Their solutions can serve as best practices for patients and businesses alike. In full disclosure, GE makes some of the technologies used by these companies.
Virtua, a comprehensive multi-hospital system in New Jersey, is considered one of the best performing hospitals in the nation both clinically and financially. They accomplished this by using data to understand performance and drive day-to-day process improvements while expanding their technology capabilities at the system's nine locations. Virtua has seen many improvements system-wide, ranging from better staff scheduling to decreasing by two-thirds the amount of time it takes to treat a woman who discovers a lump in her breast.
Moffitt Cancer Center, one of the country's leading cancer centers, used sophisticated computer modeling to reconfigure the surgical block schedule and was able to free up capacity for 900 additional cancer procedures a year without adding operating rooms or hours. That new capacity improves access for patients up to 12 percent more medical procedures and makes good business sense; about $8 million annual margin for the center.
Sometimes less is more. At Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, efforts are under way to ensure more appropriate imaging. Software that aggregates decades of evidence-based medical best practices provides diagnostic options based on historical effectiveness and patient history. It may seem counterintuitive for a medical device manufacturer to recommend fewer tests, but this kind of effort has the potential to curb the number of unnecessary imaging tests given at hospitals and outpatient clinics.
If you understand variance, you know it goes both ways. For every unnecessary scan out there, there is somebody who needs one and is not getting it. Those undiagnosed patients will inevitably cost more to treat down the road. Managing variance will improve health care quality and costs at the same time.
These leaders are at the vanguard of health care reform, harnessing data in practical ways to breathe new life into the existing system. It's time for all of us connected to health care delivery to remain focused on solutions and employ the data, processes and technologies available today to give doctors, nurses and all health care providers the best environment in which to perform.
John Dineen is president and CEO of GE Healthcare, a segment of General Electric Co. based in the United Kingdom that has approximately 1,000 employees in Utah.