Intersection of Healthcare and other industries.


I’ve been recently involved in a discussion on a LinkedIn site about whether (provider) healthcare is fundamentally the same as other industries.  This was in reply to a post that claimed, “Healthcare, you’re not so different.”  One of my replies is here, for your edification:

 I certainly don’t want to polarize the debate as to whether healthcare is or is not (in a definitive, absolute sense) the same or different from other industries. Having worked with many industries over the past 30+ years myself, I can unequivocally state that there are unique aspects to every industry, and there are many similarities; just as there are among cultures, countries, and people. It would be a boring world, indeed, were it not so!

I know and deeply respect IHC – they are doing terrific work. And I can relate to their statement to you – any kind of “whiny” excuse that “that won’t work here because we’re *so* different,” is indeed flimsy and wearing. It is time to give that up. But don’t err to the homogenization of all industries under one BPM framework – because there *are* key differences that must be accounted when working with healthcare providers.

One of them is the motivator for most people who work for healthcare providers. By and large (not universally, but mostly), people are motivated to work in healthcare because they want to help heal people. Except for the elite positions, most people did not get into healthcare to make money, but to help others in a very tangible way. Again, not that other people in other industries *don’t* want to help others, it is just a differentiating, primary driver in healthcare. So, any intervention involving the change of BP *must* take this into account, or it will fail. That’s just one difference.

Additionally, the expectation that nearly all of us put on healthcare in terms of quality and performance is *extraordinary.* While, yes, Boeing does need to maintain a quality to the degree that those of us stepping onto a 737 expect that it will not fall out of the sky, and we expect that BP will poke a hole in the sea floor that will pollute an entire ecosystem, and we don’t expect to get scalding hot coffee from McDonald’s (well, not any more, anyway). But, when we engage the healthcare system, we absolutely expect that we, our parents and grandparents, our brothers and sisters, and (most especially) our children and grandchildren will emerge healthy and alive. It is one of the reasons that we as a society were so willing to pour ever larger portions of our GNP into a system that – intentionally or not – promised us that we could and would, through research and practice, live healthy lives for a long, long time; maybe even forever.

It was only after we came to the realization (as costs began to be passed onto consumers and chewed up so much of municipal budgets) that we could not sustain the expectation that every disease has a cure on the immediate horizon, and that we are not going to live forever (at least not in my lifetime…) by simply throwing money at the conditions that cause our deaths – that we collectively said, “Whoa!”

Now, some folks (you and me included) are saying that there are lessons learned through research and from other industries that will certainly apply to help mitigate costs, improve overall quality, and dampen the inflationary spiral and rein in unleashed spending. But let me also clearly admonish us all against the assumption that *any* approach – from TQM to Lean Six Sigma to Change Management to BPM to methods in (my field) Organizational Learning – can be applied “just like” it is down the street in some other industry. It is this fundamental attribution error of universality that condemns many consultations from being effective, when they had so much potential.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: