Transferring Insights From an Auto Trade Leader to the Health C

  • Henry Ford gets a lot of credit for turning the automobile manufacturing industry into a leaner, more efficient machine. Much of this is deserved, but the reality is that there were others of similar importance who did work both before and after Ford took center stage.

    One of the most significant of these was Dr. William Edwards Deming, a figure probably just as respected today in the auto industry as Ford ever was. For decades, Deming sought ways of productively transforming industries like car manufacturing, and his insights live on in the present day in highly influential ways.

    It turns out that Deming's work can be just as useful, too, for those who are interested in private insurance. Improving healthcare quality has long been a top goal of those who work in the industry, but it has frequently been unclear how best to go about it. Deming's principles can provide some important and much-needed guidance to those who undertake this work, then.

    Deming's foundational principle was that focusing on process is often the best way of ensuring quality of outcome. Managers who are tasked with healthcare quality improvement often feel that they need to begin from the results that are desired, and then think about likely ways of achieving them. Deming's advice, on the other hand, points toward another possibility: Instead of trying to manage outcomes, those concerned with the kind of quality improvement healthcare so badly needs should focus on managing processes.

    This reversal of perspective, while of proven value and effectiveness, does require a corresponding shift in ways of attacking the problem. Deming identified a real need for better measurement tools among process managers, because without the ability to measure the elements of a process, improvements in quality become almost impossible to achieve.

    In the health care field today, this typically means making use of modern data collection and analysis tools. For a long time, the health care industry was notoriously reluctant to take advantage of the digital age, making it hard to fulfill this particular need. Today, though, with more organizations than ever making the transition, this crucial part of Deming's approach is now within the reach of many of them.

    Even if the field of health care is, in many ways, a markedly different place than the automotive industry, the former still has much to learn from the latter. Insights like those of Deming are increasingly gaining the respect they deserve and helping to produce some impressive results throughout health care.