How can organizations managed by such smart people operate so poorly?
That's the question that hounds Reuben McDaniel when he wakes up and it's what drives him each day. Target number one of his frustration: the health care industry.
"It's a crisis," he says, noting that American health care costs too much (it's the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy), isn't of consistently high quality (preventable medical errors in hospitals kill more people than motor-vehicle wrecks, breast cancer and AIDS) and isn't equally accessible to all.
But McDaniel, professor in health care management at the McCombs School of Business, is optimistic about the possibility for change in the near, if not immediate, future.
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"We can do something about improving health care delivery in five years. Cancer could take 20 years," he says.
McDaniel's vision centers around institutions and individuals working together, which he says is the key to improving quality.
"You think you want the best surgeon," he says. "But what you really want is the surgical team that has the best relationships among each other."
McDaniel's research into how health care teams work together has revealed that the way doctors, nurses and other providers relate to each other directly correlates with the quality of patient care. (Most prior research in the area focused solely on the patient-physician relationship.)
His research has also shown that electronic medical records in their current design aren't as useful in helping to solve problems as they could be, and that needs to change. He also wants to see changes in the way physicians are paid, more efficiency in the ways hospitals are run and improvements in how patients are involved in their own healing.
McDaniel says a good place to start with these types of changes: medical education.
"Dell Medical School has a huge opportunity to make improving health care delivery part of its program," McDaniel says of the new University of Texas at Austin medical school, scheduled to admit its first class in 2016. "We can choose to produce doctors who view their role differently."
Dr. Clay Johnston, dean of the medical school, couldn't agree more.
"Medicine is a bad business. It works, but it's built on a foundation that needs a reexamination," Johnston said in a video interview earlier this year.
Johnston pointed out the need for care providers to embrace technology and work together in teams.
And while new systems often come with extra dollar signs attached, Johnston says a lot of these changes will help reduce cost. "They're things that will actually cost less, make patients happier and deliver better health care," Johnston says.
McDaniel agrees, dismissing the notion that innovation will bankrupt an already cash-strapped health care system. "There's plenty of money in the system," McDaniel says. "The problem is how it's distributed."
Every year the McCombs School of Business Healthcare Initiative hosts the Health Care Symposium, bringing together, bringing together a community of practitioners, administrators and researchers to discuss improving health care delivery. We gathered a few tweets from this year's event to see what scholars and industry experts are talking about.
Population health as a social service, sense of community. Desperately needed in the US. #hookemhealth— Healthcare@McCombs (@McCombsHealth) April 11, 2014
The medical model cannot do what elderly ppl need. Social workers CAN. @SocialWorkUTex— Healthcare@McCombs (@McCombsHealth) April 11, 2014
Healthcare@McCombs (@McCombsHealth) April 11, 2014
How a virus threat is described -- passive or active -- plays a large role is scary people perceive it. Fascinating. #hookemhealth— winter pollan (@WinterPollan) April 10, 2014
This story is part of our yearlong series "In Pursuit of Health," covering medical news and research happening across the university.