Beautiful health care processes.

By | September 10, 2010

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Russian writer, once said: “Beauty Will Save the World!”. This is a provocative statement. With health care in what seems perpetual crisis, it might be worth asking – can beauty can save health care? This is not about being pretty. If beauty saved health care it would be about artful service design. Service design that brings joy to health care providers and patients.

Processes are the things that weaves people, tools and information together in health care. Health care process design is, to a manager, what a paint brush is to an artist.

What are you doing when you are changing your health care processes? Are you improving them? Maybe you’re streamlining them, making them more efficient or more value adding?

Or do you try to make them beautiful?

Other ways of thinking about processes can fall short:

  • Making processes efficient: Efficiency is a dirty word in some circles, and can be used to justify all kinds of nasty things. Some invoke efficiency in the name of firing staff, cutting budgets or making something better for one person at the expense of another. A single minded focus on efficiency is cold. In health care, most processes are about the flow and experiences of people rather than movement and assembly of parts without waste. People deserve something more than an efficient process. A beautiful process is probably efficient, but much much more.
  • Process Improvement: Improvement is a better term, it teases at the idea of building on past success, and that we should be continuously getting better at what we do. The saying “Improvement is a journey, not a destination” is the strongest element of the “improvement” concept. However, the term “improvement” is often incorrectly used in place of the word “change”, which may or may not yield any improvement at all. Furthermore, a process can be improved … but remain a poor experience for patients and contain tremendous amounts of waste. Aiming for an “improved” process often isn’t enough.
  • Making the process lean: This term is great with people and organizations that have embraced and understand the concept. The reality is, the typical staff member doesn’t immediately know anything more about lean than a penguin knows about pineapples. Lean contains vital ideas for the quality improvement practitioner like making value flow at the pull of the customer, reducing waste, etc. People can be taught, and integrating this type of knowledge is the essence of management, but it takes time.

Your customers/client/patients interact with you through your processes. Your staff spend most of their working lives in your processes. Is it possible to make a process fun, a pleasure to be a part of, an experience to look forward to, joyful, to make it … beautiful?

I don’t think we strive to this level of achievement with processes, but we should.

No health care process is too mundane to beautify. Phone calls can be a pleasure, forms can be satisfying and communication can be enriching. Making a health care process beautiful respects the impact that it has on people and their lives. A beautiful process would deliver what people need, is not wasteful, and would be uplifting to experience.

Isn’t beauty – the experience of pleasure and satisfaction often in the presence of another – what makes life worth living? Save some room for considering beauty when designing a health care process.

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