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One Hospital's Radical Prescription for Change

I spent last Friday night in Detroit, where I spoke to the annual dinner of the Board of Trustees of the Henry Ford Health System. If you think that sounds like a dull way to start the weekend, you'd be mistaken. In fact, this organization has unleashed one of the most exciting and inspiring case studies in change that I have seen in a long time-and the evening left me convinced that other organizations can do the same.

Henry Ford is a huge (annual revenues of more $4 billion), long-standing (established in 1915) organization headquartered in a famously troubled city. It would be easy, as the leaders of a hospital system in a state with the country's highest unemployment rate, for Henry Ford executives to hunker down, cut back, and squeeze out enough improvements to avoid financial intensive care. But rather than think small, CEO Nancy Schlichting and her colleagues made a huge bet. They built the organization's first new hospital since 1915, and they built it around a set of ideas meant to redefine what's possible in healthcare.

Rethink the Role of Your Organization
Henry Ford West Bloomfield, 30 minutes from downtown Detroit, resembles a northern Michigan vacation lodge, on a 160-acre campus with rolling woods, scenic wetlands, and a pond. All 300 rooms (the first 191 of which opened in March 2009) are private and designed to accommodate family members who wish to stay overnight. There's a concierge to help families with errands and a "tea sommelier" who touts the virtues of swimming marigold, tender lotus blossom, and other blends. There's a gorgeous 90-seat demonstration kitchen where health-conscious chefs teach patient's families and the whole community how to prepare better food.

As for the food at the hospital, it is die for (pun intended). Matt Prentice, a celebrity chef based in Bingham Farms, between Detroit and West Bloomfield, spent two years creating 3,000 recipes so that patients can choose from items that are kosher, halal, organic, or gluten-free. The food is so appealing that the hospital is on track to generate millions of dollars a year hosting and catering functions for companies and community groups.

If the place sounds more like an elegant hotel than a traditional hospital, that's no accident. Gerard van Grinsven, West Bloomfield's CEO, joined Henry Ford after a long career with Ritz-Carlton. Talk about breakthrough thinking: Henry Ford recruited a senior hospitality executive to run a hospital that would take healthcare on a new trajectory.

Early on, the new CEO's arrival was met with skepticism, even hostility, from the healthcare establishment and the media: What does someone from the Ritz-Carlton know about building, staffing, and running a medical facility? But Henry Ford's leadership turned the question around: How can you build and run a game-changing hospital with the same high standards for design, service, and quality?

Use an Outsider's Perspective
"I had a fresh pair of eyes and no baggage when I arrived," van Grinsven explains. "The challenge today is to deliver a level of service comparable to the best hotels in the world, to create a mystique that encourages people to seek us out. But the bigger challenge, the real opportunity for reinvention, is to rethink the role of a hospital. How do we position ourselves as a community center for well-being - as a destination that helps everyone to lead a healthier life?"

Questions of cost loom large for any hospital, and many experts inside and outside healthcare wondered how West Bloomfield could create its unique patient experience without busting budgets. In fact, van Grinsven insists, the hospital's change-the-game logic is to use its quality-enhancing innovations to bring down costs. "We don't have private rooms to be fancy," he argues. "We have private rooms because they significantly reduce rates of infection in the hospital and add to the personal privacy of patients. Over the long term, our focus on wellness and prevention will reduce overall health-care costs" for the community.

"This was the first hospital we had built since 1915," says Henry Ford CEO Schlichting. "Our other hospitals joined the system through acquisition. So we kept pushing: What is going to distinguish this hospital? What could we do that was unique and transformational?"

Recognize Incremental Change Isn't Enough
Robert Riney, COO of the system, uses different language to make the same point. "It's not radical to 'go radical,'" he argues. "It's logical to go radical. How can you look at the situation in our industry and say the answer is to make incremental change?"

Some things, the old expression goes, have to be seen to be believed. But when it comes to breakthrough innovation and game-changing strategy, the inverse holds true as well: Some things have to be believed to be seen.

What are the ideas in which you believe that will help change the game?


Image courtesy of flickr user, Fotos Gov/Ba
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