Another Hospital Ad About Patient Safety – Not Sure I Like This One


I blogged recently about a radio ad from the Detroit Medical Center trumpeting their technology and patient safety efforts.

In my further travels, I saw this billboard (from a hospital that's a competitor of a client… and no, I won't tell you who or where).
So the hospital declares itself “Safe”? That sounds like a bit of an absolute, doesn't it? Does that mean perfectly safe or even “Six Sigma Safe”? Their competitor, my client, has won the same award FOUR years in a row (not because of Lean and not because of anything I did).

Does the hospital with the billboard mean to say they are “less safe than the other” or “safer but more recently so?” It seems like it would be a lawyer's field day if something went the least bit wrong (which is likely in the typical hospital)…. “but you said you were SAFE”!!!!!

For such a serious topic, it's a pretty meaningless billboard, don't you think? Or am I over thinking this?

I tend to agree with Paul O'Neill's statement in the video “Good News: How Hospitals Heal Themselves” that patient safety and quality should NOT be a differentiator amongst even competing hospitals. Safety and quality should be a given (it's not) and it should have uniformly high levels — all of the patients at each hospital deserve as much.

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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. It’s an ad. How much do you want to read into it?

    Safety is a competitive advantage. If you have a better track record than the other guy, the customer wants to know that.

  2. I don’t know how much “advantage” there is in that the other hospital in town has won this award FOUR years in a row.

    How do you measure “safe”? The billboard makes it sound like an absolute, which might be overpromising.

    This HealthGrades award puts them in the top 270 of about 5,000 U.S. hospitals.


  3. One of my pet peeves is that patient safety is used as a competitive tool. If one hospital figures out a way to save lives, it doesn’t necessarily share it with their competition. Why? Isn’t keeping people healthy and safe what all of us should be doing? If we have a way to do it, shouldn’t we be sharing it with the world so we are all safer? To me, it’s almost a crime to keep something like that secret if we know it will help keep people alive.

  4. Call me a cynic, but I’d bet these “safety” awards aren’t worth the metal that goes into the shiny plaque.

    I bet these prizes are either:

    1) Given to those who best game the numbers and the right metrics


    2) Those who hire the right consultants that coach you how to do #1.

  5. That has got to be one of the ugliest, worst designed billboards ever. Looks like an amateur effort; whose nephew designed it? Considering the profile of the advertiser and my suspicion of nephew design, it doesn’t instill me with much confidence. Are their staffing and infrastructure decisions made along similar lines?

  6. Advertising for an hospital? Ins’t that a big inefficiency: when you look at the whole service chain – from caregivers such as surgeons, to patients – aren’t advertisement costs, accounting including tracking for unpaid bills, lost time due to administrative tasks, and so on, all waste? And moreover, waste-that-could-be-eliminated? European-style systems, with a central paying organism financed by taxes, frees time for hospitals to focus on what really matters.

    I believe that health care should not be an area of human activity subjected to competition and rentability. That’s a political opinion, and everybody can disagree with it.

    But lean thinking teaches us to look at the whole chain. Lean improvements at the scale at the hospital, as you’re doing, is great and should be generalized, but is little compared to what could be done with a leaner health care system. I think no one can reasonnably think the US system is “efficient” in that respect.

    Once again this is not to criticize your efforts but the debate you wanted to launch seems to be missing the point.


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