Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Measuring Success Helps Us All Become Smart Consumers (and Providers)

How good is a hospital? Are you likely to get sick again? Will you have to return? How likely are you not to leave the hospital alive?

As the Pioneer Press reported, Medicare took a significant step to make data on hospital outcomes more accessible. This will benefit all of us who consume and pay for health care. It is an ethical, economically-responsible step to take.

At the Hamm Clinic, where I serve as Chair of the Board, we have tracked patient outcomes for more than a decade. So, for example, we now have a better understanding of how long it takes patients to get better, which patients seem to respond most quickly to treatment, and which types of patients don’t succeed with treatment or dropout prematurely. This evidence has many uses.

Clinicians can use the information to make better treatment decisions and to improve their work. Researchers can use the information to develop new and better treatment approaches. Eventually, consumers of health care can use the information in ways that will assist them and their families to better care for themselves.

All nonprofit organizations can learn from this. In the difficult economic times that we face, improving our effectiveness and increasing our productivity have become more important than ever. We need to work smart to produce results in the most cost-effective way and to have “multiplier effects”, whether our interest is health, the arts, education, economic development, or any other focus. Good data, including information on the outcomes of our activities, can help us to work much smarter.

Some nonprofit managers contend that we cannot, or should not, measure our outcomes. They sometimes claim that “We know what works; let’s just do it” or “We can’t measure everything we do” or “It costs too much”. But think about it: Would you really want to have a medical procedure that had not been tested? As a donor or taxpayer, wouldn’t you prefer to know that evidence exists that your hard-earned dollars will go to efforts that can succeed?

We do not need to measure everything that we do all of the time. Nonetheless, the hospitals can demonstrate how ongoing measurement of some of our work, combined with a sampling of autopsies (or, in the case of most nonprofits, occasional follow-up studies of clients or users of our services) can assist all of us to improve the effectiveness and productivity of our efforts on behalf of the people we serve.