Don Berwick: Just the thinking health care needs

It’s been a pleasure these past few weeks to see all the praise being heaped on our friend Don Berwick, who is President Obama’s choice to lead the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Sometimes it’s hard to argue with the President of the United States!

The author is senior vice president, Quality and Transformation and director, Health Policy and Clinical Effectiveness at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Don over the years as we pursue our common passion of delivering higher quality, safer health care. Berwick, the current head of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, an organization he founded, is a pediatrician who thinks big.

He believes there should be no errors in health care delivery. None. He says there should be no needless deaths, harm, or pain and suffering because we fail to deliver on our promise of taking care of our patients.

We’re with him in those beliefs and we’re working to bring that vision into reality. It will not be easy.

Not all of the reports circulating about Berwick have been positive. There are some who say because he hasn’t practiced medicine for years he doesn’t understand how it works “on the ground.”

But he was a practicing pediatrician for many years before he created the IHI. Today, he exposes himself continuously to real-life settings through site visits and conversations with leaders and those on the front lines.

The improvement collaboratives IHI has conducted under his leadership have been very successful across  a variety of settings, from small clinics and small group practices to large federally-funded public health clinics.

Don is a great listener, a great leader. He is innovative and generous. We have no doubt he will use sound scientific concepts, and successful pilots, to build the energy and evidence for change that is so desperately needed in our industry.

A few years ago, Modern Healthcare magazine named Don #3 on the list of the most powerful people in healthcare. Health care pundit (and surgeon and author) Atul Gwande said at the time that Don was not given the high rank for the position he held – the two people ahead of him were the head of Medicare and the Secretary of Health and Human Services – but because of how he thinks.

We like the way he thinks.

We’d like to know what you think, too. Post a comment below. If you have a question, we’ll try to answer it. If you have a comment, we’ll be sure to listen.

Uma Kotagal, MBBS, MSc, is Senior Vice President of Quality, Safety and Transformation and the Executive Director of the James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence at Cincinnati Children’s. Dr. Kotagal oversees the development of disease management teams and development of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines at the Anderson Center. 

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