The Doctors Next Door

Peek into the Mind of our New Healthcare Leader

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I've followed Dr. Don Berwick since my 1999 awakening to the forces at work to improve the quality and safety of our healthcare system. Long before the healthcare reform act was a glimmer in Obama's eye, Dr. Berwick's organization, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), was working to change the system from within. He is a revolutionary pediatrician with a gift for vision and insight who has successfully applied these qualities toward concerted action.  

As the founding CEO for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, others like me have learned both from him and with him on the journey toward helping our healthcare systems deliver more on its promises.  The substance of that "more" includes making it:
These are the Six Aims of the Institute of Medicine.

He will now leave his IHI post to serve as Director for the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare.
So what will he do in this new job?

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I'm sure Dr. Berwick has a lengthy job description in hand.Suffice it to say that he will be at the center of implementing the healthcare reform legislation. In my personal opinion, that's great news.  In fact, his critics are few despite the fact that his appointment occurred by presidential mandate during congressional recess. 

It's my understanding that there have been no industry statements of opposition to his appointment to date. There are a few Republican senators that fear he supports healthcare rationing as exemplified by his regard for Britain's National Health Service. Being that the Institute for Healthcare Improvement has an international presence, Dr. Berwick has had a unique opportunity to observe healthcare system successes and failures throughout the world.  That experience can't hurt as he goes to work on ours.

I've had the opportunity many times over the past decade to observe how this man thinks and operates. I thought you might also like to peek into the mind of this revolutionary leader.  The Yale medical school graduation speech at which his daughter, Jessica, sat in cap and gown offers a valuable glimpse.  He starts by telling the story of an email he received in December 2009 from the bereaved wife of a fellow physician. This family saw some very dark hours in their loved one's final days, many of which could have been made brighter if our medical system would have had some sensitivity training. Here's a small excerpt from Dr. Berwick's speech.

...now I will tell you a secret - a mystery. Those who suffer need you to be something more than a doctor; they need you to be a healer. And, to become a healer, you must do something even more difficult than putting your white coat on. You must take your white coat off. You must recover, embrace, and treasure the memory of your shared, frail humanity - of the dignity in each and every soul. When you take off that white coat in the sacred presence of those for whom you will care - in the sacred presence of people just like you - when you take off that white coat, and, tower not over them, but join those you serve, you become a healer in a world of fear and fragmentation, an "aching" world, as your Chaplain put it this morning, that has never needed healing more.

It's that mentality that inspires me toward a more just, caring, and patient centered healthcare system. If you're itching for more on Dr. Berwick, here's a great resource for you.

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