Tom Peters: The high number of hospital-caused drug errors and infections is a disgrace


From Modern Healthcare (link no longer available), Tom Peters throws a few verbal bombs at the healthcare industry:

Quality gains needn't be costly, Peters tells HFMA
Financial executives can do more to improve healthcare quality and it won't cost more money to do so, said management guru Tom Peters, speaking at the Healthcare Financial Management Association's yearly meeting.In a keynote speech, Peters told attendees of the gathering that “despite our good work in some areas, like patient safety, we still haven't reached up to the awful level.” The high number of hospital-caused drug errors and infections is a “disgrace,” Peters said.

Peters is absolutely right that better quality CAN cost less – and it should. Improving processes saves money — Lean is one way to get there. I guess Peters has earned the right to throw rocks… is it helpful? In his talk, Peters said we need to train more in “people skills” not in numbers. To me, Lean definitely falls into the “people” side as opposed to being really mathematically rigorous like, say, Six Sigma.

Managing the right process will bring the right results — that Lean truism certainly holds in healthcare. Managing processes means getting out there and seeing how work is done, working with and coaching people. I think the path to improvement can't rely exclusively on measurement, quotas, and incentives. You have to manage the people and the process. I'm hoping Peters would agree with that.

The HFMA website also has an interview with Peters.

Peters often speaks in terms that might remind you of Lean:

My revolution is a revolution of simplicity that gets us focused back on delivering health care and realizing that a lot of our operational problems that are involved with healthcare delivery itself are problems that can be fixed with some straightforward solutions. Just throwing money at these problems is not the answer.

You could think of Lean as a “revolution of simplicity” (he *is* good with turning a phrase). With Lean, we simplify procedures to get the waste out of people's day — eliminating unnecessary steps and activities so people can focus on caring for patients. That's the brilliance of Lean — not “working harder” or “being more careful.” Lean solutions are straightforward – they seem like common sense, in hindsight — but yet we're not always adopting these ideas on our own, without Lean training and coaching.

Part of his advice for CFOs:

I don't want you to sign off on a $3.5 million investment to make patient safety things happen in your hospital. I do want you to sign off on 14 little experiments that go after bits and pieces of it where we can see what works and what doesn't work.

That's also Lean thinking!! Great stuff from Peters…

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Great article pickup and comments Mark! If hospitals and healthcare organizations want to reduce costs and save money they just can’t tell their people to “Go Improve Quality,” or “Go Save Money.” If you are looking for better results you need to better your people with the latest skills like Lean Management to drive out all the waste and inefficiencies in your operations.

    The time for Lean is now! The oil crunch is just starting to hit the industry with the way the timing of their supply and service contracts are running and let’s not forget those employees who will want more money to offset the inflation factor.


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