Monday, December 22, 2008

Where is System Redesign?

For my Dad on his birthday…

On June 9, 2005 the first annual Hospital Redesign Summit was held in San Diego. How much more perfect could this get, since I was charged with helping lead System Redesign? Like everyone else, I wasn't quite sure what that meant. I arrived late that night to San Diego after a very full week of long hours in the hospital dealing with what seemed to be an expanding list of issues. My week was not consumed by the halls of Contra Costa but spent in other hospitals sitting at the bedside of my father who had fallen quite ill. After what seemed to be weeks of sleepless nights, my father was transferred to a large tertiary medical center. It was a welcome reprieve as the drips and lines seemed to be increasing with each day. With him safely tucked in at one of the finest centers in the world, I could now get on a plane to learn more about “Redesign.” To be honest, I was tired and needed a break.

My day started off with a video from Sorrel King, mother of Josie. To this day I will never forget her words, the words of a mother who lost her child to a chain of errors and system failures.
~Josie King Story~
She challenged hospitals to think about having a team that was available to bring care quickly to people who were deteriorating before they went into a cardiac or respiratory arrest. She called it a medical emergency team or rapid response team.

I went from session to session and could not escape the realization that our system was broken. It wasn’t about the hospital, but rather the whole system of health. I also found others who were trying to learn ways to improve their systems through ‘redesign.’ I came home energized and full of ideas about improvement methods and reliability, and concepts like ‘spread.’ I also came home to find my father sicker than when I had left.

The days following the Summit were filled with ideas scribbled on paper while sitting at my father’s bedside. I tried to keep up as the teams rounded on him. It seemed so odd that after all the time I had spent in a hospital, I hadn't a clue how it all worked. I couldn't figure out who was in charge of which part of his body. I couldn't keep up with his deteriorating health and growing amount of health care intervention. It was truly a mess but in just a few more days he was discharged to my home for what would surely be a very long but full recovery. It was four days later I had come back to work for a meeting about the digital diagnostic imaging system (PACS) when the call came in about my Dad. It wasn't good news…

As I drove home that night from the mortuary I wondered. Did he experience any harm due to error? He took high-risk medication, what if it was the insulin? Was it a postoperative complication or infection? Was it sepsis? I wondered what might have happened if there were some mechanism like the rapid response team that Sorrell King had described. I wondered about the people we serve.

When I returned to work, the System Redesign Team approached the most senior leadership and the Performance Improvement Committee with a request to endorse and actively participate in the IHI 100k Lives Campaign. In the months to follow, leaders all over the system stepped forward. Tools and how-to-guides were brought to life by teams that had already been working in many aspects of the 100k Lives Campaign interventions. We heard stories of steady improvements that began to take the form of breakthrough improvement. The energy was palpable.

As I read through the email responses to my ‘small test’ in communication and was stopped in the halls this last week, I realized that many people are wondering, "What ever happened to System Redesign?" It's a reasonable question, and it points to how redesign elements have been integrated into the current system. System Redesign was never occurring in a conference room but rather in improvement teams on your unit. 'System Redesign' wasn't a committee making sweeping changes and impersonal decisions that shaped the experience of the individuals we serve: you were, one decision at a time, one experience at a time, one patient at a time. The team located tools from experts to share with you. Tools that others across the nation had found, if used reliably, made it easier to do the right thing for your patients.

So where is System Redesign now? System Redesign has been diffused into structures such as Safety and Performance Improvement. Under the leadership of Dr. Tremain and many others, the County Board of Supervisors is learning more about safety and improvement and hearing stories from many of you about improvement efforts in your area. Redesign can also be found on every unit in the system. I have walked the units and found improvement emerging without exception in every site. I found a number of people who said you didn't need more resources but you needed to find different ways to do the right thing, a viewpoint supported by Steve Spear this last week in the New York Times (More for more? Spear, S.), where he notes that in health care, more is not necessarily better. Not necessarily more, but different, that is redesign.
Recently, I was on the fourth floor and a rapid response was called. I watched as the team delivered what appeared to be a seamless response that resulted in a rapid transition to critical care. I thought of his family. A few days later, I learned that the man had been discharged home. I thought of my Dad.


  1. Anna:

    I found your writing above to be of extreme quality. It moved me very much.You have a real talent to share with others!

  2. Thanks for sharing your father's story. I'm collecting real life stories of people who have lost their health insurance because of the economic downturn and have come to CCHS for help and patients who have gotten service from us that they couldn't get elsewhere. Send me your stories! Julie Freestone (

  3. Thank you for sharing about your dad. It reminds me of why we must take the time to reflect on the care we are providing. Family members need to know that their loved ones are in an institution that is safe and has the ability to deliver the care that is needed, when it is needed.

  4. Excellent writing Anna. I think this can be a platform to keep others informed and inspired.

  5. Anna,
    I have also spent days at the bedside of my parents in the last few years. It makes us see health care from the other side, which in turn makes us better providers and better people.
    Good Luck with your new position.

  6. Anna:
    This Feb will be 10 years since my dad died at Alta Bates. During a 3 week hospitalization where I did all the things you did (and tried to mediate between hospital staff and my parents and 6 siblings), I wandered around wondering why hospitals hallways weren't filled with families weeping from the strain of trying to protect their loved ones from what occurs everyday in hospitals.
    Redesign, transformation,these are good things to work on. I wish you the strength to use your position to making this a healing system.