by Jen Jenkins
The ability to measure quality in nearly every industry has proven to be a powerful and important component for success. In both healthcare and education, metrics and measurements are no less significant, but over time has this number gathering trend spun out of control?
According to Robert Wachter, a professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco and the author of this New York Times blog post, in healthcare and education “the focus on numbers has gone too far.” In medicine, the constant measuring that takes place has become more a matter of being included on a “top 100” or “best hospitals” list, rather than a chance to improve patient care. A significant amount of a doctor’s precious time is now being spent entering information into a computer system instead of having quality conversations with patients. A study done in 2013 found that during a 10-hour shift, emergency room doctors were clicking a mouse 4,000 times. That is an immense amount of time spent entering information and being away from patients, all in the name of producing numbers.
It’s true that spending time on metrics is not as much of an issue in industries where the focus and care of another person doesn’t possibly mean life or death. The issue isn’t whether or not to get rid of measurement in healthcare–it does play an important role–but to instead scale it back. Allowing time for more research could help produce a better understanding of what to measure and ensure that what is being measured really matters in terms of the betterment of the industry. Overall, according to Robert Wachter, one should fully appreciate that measurement does place a burden on professionals in the medical field. We need to learn how to minimize that burden so that measuring for quality does not mean a decline in the actual quality of care that patients receive from doctors.
In his post, Robert Wachter goes on to explore this phenomenon of metrics and measurement in another industry where the cons may outweigh the pros. As in medicine, measurement in education comes at an expense. According to educators, that expense is actual learning and a loss of some important subjects that are not as easily measured by tests – examples include art, music, and physical education. Is a preoccupation with test scores really worth the demise of a well-rounded education?
Avedis Donabedian, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, had a surprising answer regarding the secret behind quality. After a lifetime spent in the field of quality measurement, this data-driven scientist said, “The secret of quality is love.” It’s clear that we cannot let the business side of either healthcare or education dissuade people from becoming doctors or educators; these are both fields that should be able to adopt measurement without losing the compassion and altruism that exists at their core.