A call to action: Helen Bevan’s blog

Rocking the boat and staying in it: how to succeed as a radical in healthcare

Helen Bevan (@HelenBevan on Twitter) works with NHS Improving Quality, the national improvement team for the NHS in England.


Anyone who chooses to be a change agent or improvement leader in healthcare doesn’t choose an easy life. There are so many forces opposing the changes we want to see; a system that rewards people for “keeping the trains running” rather than radical change, those with the power and/or a vested interest in keeping the status quo, colleagues and leaders who are sceptical, apathetic or scared of change.  Many times in my career in improvement, I have felt isolated, vulnerable and misunderstood. People have treated me like some kind of oddball when I have craved to be taken seriously and appreciated for my efforts as a leader of change. Yet big change only happens in healthcare organisations because of heretics and radicals; the courageous, passionate people who are willing to take responsibility for change, who support their organisation in its mission but also challenge the status quo.

As Martin Luther King described it: ‘‘The saving of our world . . . will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority’’.

The hope of healthcare rests with the non-conformists, the radicals, the heretics and mavericks in our midst.

So who are the radicals in healthcare organisations? Research by Debra Meyerson  shows that the most effective radicals are those who have learnt to oppose and conform at the same time. Or, as she puts it, “they are able to rock the boat and yet stay in it”. These are change leaders who stand up to challenge the status quo when they see there could be a better way. They develop the ability to walk the fine line between difference and fit, inside and outside. These leaders are driven by their own convictions and values which makes them credible and authentic to others in their organisations. Most importantly of all, they take action as individuals that ignite broader collective action that leads to big change. These leaders already exist in every healthcare organisation, in many different roles and multiple levels. They aren’t typically the Chief Executives or senior clinical leaders yet the impact of their change activities are often just as significant. We saw so many examples of this on NHS Change Day 2013. Many organisation-wide change efforts that led to tangible improvements for large numbers of patients were initiated by grass roots front line leaders.

Lois Kelly has developed some fantastic resources for “rebels at work” and I would recommend a trip round her website to all healthcare radicals. Helpfully, she makes the distinction between a “rebel” and a “troublemaker” and I have adapted her table below.  As rebels, we continuously seek innovative new ways of delivering care. We are committed to the patient-centred mission and values of our organisation. We are driven by our passion for better care for patients. We are optimistic about the future, the potential for change and see many possibilities for doing things in different ways. We generate energy for change which attracts others to unite with us for a common cause

“Troublemakers” also challenge the status quo but in a way that is very different to “rebels”. Troublemakers complain about the current state of affairs but their focus tends to be around their own personal position rather than achieving the goals of the organisation.



















Source: Adapted from Lois Kelly  www.foghound.com

They are angry about how things are and don’t have much confident that things will get better in the future. They alienate other people because if others link with them, troublemakers will sap their energy. This just confirms what troublemakers probably know already– they don’t belong.

There are a couple of points I wanted to make about rebels and troublemakers. Firstly, many organisational leaders view ANYONE who challenges the status quo as a troublemaker, Therefore, rebels get unfairly labelled as troublemakers. It has happened to me on more than one occasion. It feels SO unjust but we are to be effective change agents, we have to anticipate that it might happen and learn to deal with it. Secondly, lots of change leaders  in healthcare start out as rebels but their voice doesn’t get heard, they begin to stridently question the status quo in a manner which is radical and self-defeating and they cross the line from rebel to troublemaker. As rebels, we have a responsibility to look out for this and try to prevent  it happening by building relationships and forming alliances with others who challenge the status quo.

So what are the tactics to survive and thrive as a radical/rebel/heretic/maverick in healthcare? I would like to suggest four:

  1. Start by improving myself
  2. Build alliances for change
  3. Work out what might help others to change
  4. Don’t be a martyr

I will discuss each of these issues in turn in my next four blogs. If you would like a preview on these topics, you can watch this short film

Corporate Rebels United is a global movement of “corporate rebels” across multiple industries and sectors. Many healthcare rebels/radicals are part of this. This is the manifesto of Corporate Rebels United which perfectly captures the mission of organisational radicals in healthcare to deliver the new truth of healthcare transformation

We are architects and scouts into the future, and we want to guide our organisations in navigating a safe path from now to then:


Challenging the status quo

Changing the rules

Saying the unsaid

Spreading the innovation virus

Seeding tribal energy

With no fear

With a cause to do good

Leading by being from our true selves

Going after the un-named quality


Calls to action for this week

  1. Make time to reflect on your own role as a healthcare rebel/radical; what are the implications for the ways you operate as an agent or leader of change?
  2. Seek out other rebels/radicals and discuss tactics for rocking the boat and staying in it
  3. Identify and support others who are at risk of crossing the line from “rebel” to “troublemaker”

Two decades in healthcare improvement


Helen Bevan (@HelenBevan on Twitter) works with NHS Improving Quality, the national improvement team for the NHS in England.  

I will be writing a regular blog for the BMJ Quality Blog. So this is  my introductory blog about my work passions which give some hints about what I might write about in future blogs. I should also tell you a little bit about my background, as I don’t think you can separate the blog from the person.

I’ve worked in quality improvement in the English National Health Service for more than two decades. I’ve learnt so much first-hand about delivering change, mostly because large scale change rarely ever goes to plan. I also had a “pre-NHS” career, although it feels a long time ago now. My first degree was in social science. I am a very good advertisement for the benefits and relevance of a social science education; I still use many of the ideas and principles about large scale change that I learnt as a teenage undergraduate. In my 20s, I worked in organisational and leadership roles in local government and education. My roles were always about leading change, helping people think differently and building new skills; I worked on one of the earliest “Total Quality Management” projects in the education sector in the late 1980s. I joined the NHS in 1991 as part of a scheme to bring senior leaders from other industries into the health sector. My change management skills were identified very quickly by the NHS and since then, my entire NHS career has been about enabling big change to happen. I’ve undertaken all my subsequent education, up to doctoral level, part time whilst leading major change programmes. It isn’t something I’d recommend to the fainthearted.

I spent much of the 1990s leading The Leicester Royal Infirmary “re-engineering programme”; a massive effort to transform an NHS hospital on a scale never attempted before. Not everything we tried worked but much did and that experience was seminal for me as a leader of change. It taught me greatly about the importance of big ambition for service change and for patients. Terry McNulty and Ewan Ferlie wrote a book about it which remains one of the most informative texts on healthcare improvement ever written. If, as a country, we had followed McNulty and Ferlie’s advice on how to go about change in a clinical environment, we would be significantly more advanced in our change efforts today.

In 1998, I was given my first NHS-wide job in improvement, working with policy makers, clinicians and hospital managers from across England to eliminate waiting times for patients. And in 2013, I’m still working at a national level in the NHS, supporting quality improvement. I’d say that my biggest achievement has been helping to make improvement mainstream in the NHS, hopefully in a way that had an impact on a lot of front line clinical teams and patients. When I first started life as a healthcare improver it was a lonely occupation, undertaken by only a few enthusiasts and visionaries. Now, the systematic application of quality improvement methods happens in most NHS organisations to some degree. I think that I have helped along the way through very practical but effective strategies such as the Ten High Impact Changes for Service Improvement and Delivery, The Productive series including The Productive Ward and Productive General Practice, the use of social movement principles in healthcare improvement and more recently, the NHS Change Model. These initiatives have spread to healthcare systems around the world. I have stuck with my role at a national level in the NHS for many years and I believe the continuity has helped.

It’s obvious to me that the current era offers the best potential ever for large scale change in healthcare. The challenges that the NHS and other healthcare systems face now mean that many of the previous incremental ways of undertaking change aren’t fast enough or broad enough for the future. We need to build on the strengths that we have as an NHS system but bring in fresh perspectives.  We have to design change strategies with a “second order” mindset (possibilities, connections and innovative solutions at scale) rather than “first order” thinking (limits losses and fears, doing more of what is done already, on a bigger scale). But more of this in coming weeks.

Over the years, I have trained in many different methodologies and philosophies for quality improvement and organisational development; from Lean and Six Sigma to the Model for Improvement to Polarity Management and large group engagement to McKinsey’s five frames for organisational health and transformation to community organising and social movement thinking. I have huge respect and appreciation of all these approaches and utilise them all but I’m not a purist about any one approach. I think that the skilled improvement leader has a toolkit of approaches that can be utilised to any given situation.

And no, I’m not a direct descendent of Aneurin Bevan, although I’m proud that I share my surname with the founder of the NHS. My paternal ancestors (“the Bevans”) were seafarers and sailmakers from Bristol. At some point, centuries ago, they crossed the Bristol Channel from South Wales. My greatest NHS inspiration is my mother, Beryl Bevan who worked as an NHS domestic assistant for nearly 30 years. My mum lived out her NHS values in her job, through her hard work, her kindness and positive attitude. She epitomises thousands of NHS workers in the extent to which she was willing to help others and do far more than she was employed to do. I aspire to be like her every day in the way that I do my NHS role.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for my blog and look forward to many great comments and conversations in coming weeks.


How BMJ Hack Day showed some ways forward in transforming healthcare

Helen Bevan (@helenbevan on Twitter) is part of the delivery team for NHS Improving Quality, the national improvement team of the NHS in England. 

I live in a world of healthcare improvement, quality and safety. I spend my hours working with others to build action for change and transformation and seeking to solve the eternal challenge of how to help change spread from one place to another.

Increasingly in my world, people are talking about “hack days” and “hackathons”. A number of the young NHS leaders and trainee doctors that I interact with take part in “NHS Hack Days”; the Management Innovation eXchange, is running global virtual hackathons to reinvent the way that organisational leaders lead change and across the world, governments are using hack day methods to create more transparent, accessible services for citizens. A hack day is essentially an event of one or more days where people involved in software development (known as “developers” or “devs”), subject matter experts and others get together to invent creative solutions or new insights to tricky problems. I can see from my world that leaders of change are starting to apply methods that originated in the software industry (and were about technical data-driven solutions) to solving big strategic issues such as strategic planning, community building, system redesign, and transformational leadership development.

Team SGULIT hard at work at #BMJhack

Team SGULIT hard at work at #BMJhack

So I thought I had better experience a hack day. When BMJ offered me the chance to be a judge at their hack on 6th and 7th July, I jumped at the opportunity to take part, observe and learn. The event started at 10am on Saturday morning and ended at 7pm on Sunday night. There were about 50 people taking part in the hack day, about two thirds of which were “devs”, many of whom had no or little health background. There were also medical students, academics and clinicians. They could choose from one of four challenges to work on. The first was around “digital medical students”, building innovative applications to help create future doctors. The second challenge was about creating a “zero harm NHS”. The third challenge was about contextualising knowledge content, such as BMJ Best Practice, to local settings around the world and the final challenge was about how to revolutionise the scholarly publication process, to enable greater collaboration and access.

So after the initial briefing, the participants started to share ideas, identify potential areas to work on, define their hacks and build teams. Some people had bought topics that they had already been working on for months, others offered their services as specialist contributors to teams. They were given access to BMJ data to work with. Over the next 24 hours, I observed the teams diagnosing problems, generating ideas, experimenting and prototyping their solutions. At first, I was surprised that some of the teams didn’t spend longer finding out about the context of the problems they were seeking to solve, by talking to the people who were present at the hack day who could give them a lot of information. Many of them dived straight into the data. What I realised after a while is that they used the data to understand the problem and the context. I was astonished at what they could do with data!

All of the developers were volunteers. They gave up their weekend to take part in the challenge. Many of them slept overnight at the venue and worked well into the night creating their solutions. There was a fantastic spirit and enthusiasm for the topics. At 4pm on Sunday, each of the 13 teams took part in a “show and tell” to present their solutions to the judges. There was a wide range of hacks, ranging from on-line calendars for clinical students in hospitals to a motion tracker to prevent patient falls and pressure ulcers to medical decision trees using basic mobile phones in locations where availability of technology is limited. In nearly every case, the presenter of the idea had actually built a computer application that they were physically able to demonstrate. They had done this in a period of a little over 24 hours. They challenged my pre-conceptions about what can be achieved in a short timescale.

Participants start to show and tell their contributions at #BMJhack

Participants start to show and tell their contributions at #BMJhack

You can read about the winners in the next copy of BMJ. There is also a blog from a member of the winning team. The winning entries tended to be those where developers and clinicians had formed teams together, combining specialist developer expertise with subject-matter expertise to tackle big problems in a context-specific way.

I benefitted so much from this experience. These are some of the learning points I took away:

  • We need to engage lots of different change agents to tackle the challenges of health and care and get fresh eyes on the issues. This weekend I learnt a lot about change from 15 and 17 year old developers
  • Open innovation (innovating in partnership with those outside of your organisation or usual collaborators) is a very powerful way to get new ideas and perspectives and we need to do more of it
  • People will volunteer and give of themselves greatly if we set the challenges in an exciting way, engage with their values, support them to work with others for a shared purpose and value their contributions
  • There is massive potential to build communities of learning and action, based on hack methods, to tackle some of our biggest challenges
  • The best solutions come when we combine effective data analysis with creativity and imagination and human values and intuition

Thanks BMJ for inviting me to my first hack day. I hope it is the first of many.

Improving the quality of data collected by community health workers in rural Malawi


Dr. Junior Bazile and Henry Makungwa

Dr. Junior Bazile is a Haitian physician who received a medical degree in Haiti and obtained a master’s degree in public health from the University of Alabama at Birmingham under a Fulbright Scholarship. After several years working in Haiti and in Burundi, he is now working with Partners In Health in Malawi as the clinical director and community health director.

Henry Peter Makungwa is Malawian, and is currently the manager of the Village Health Worker program, overseeing all activities related to the household chart. He has been extensively trained in agriculture extension and holds a certificate in that field. After many years working with NGOs in the field, he joined PIH/APZU in 2008 and is one of the pioneers of the household chart program in Malawi.

In 2007, Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (APZU), the sister organization of Partners In Health (PIH) in Malawi, began a community health worker program to support HIV care in the remote, rural district of Neno. The program was designed to complement and be integrated with a Ministry of Health national HIV care program. The addition of community health workers allows HIV care and treatment to reach Malawians living in remote areas where geography makes it exceedingly difficult for them to access care.

In this setting, community health workers provide a critical link between the community and the local health facility. They visit patients between medical appointments, ensuring medications are taken as prescribed, answering questions, and monitoring for medical and social complications that might hinder a patient’s successful treatment. They also refer and accompany patients to a health facility when necessary.

During their regular visits, community health workers (CHW) collect data on a paper household chart, developed by PIH/APZU and the Ministry of Health. Data about all members of the community are collected on the chart, aggregated by site supervisors, and entered into a database. The resulting data give PIH/APZU a rich window into the lives of the people we serve. The information allows managers and supervisors to identify people suffering from inadequate housing, food shortages, a lack of potable water, or to find communities where a lack of information and cultural barriers are preventing pregnant women from attending antenatal appointments.

But these uses of the household chart are only possible with quality data. Challenges with the quality of CHW-collected data have been well documented in settings of poverty. In Neno, informal assessments had already indicated that household chart data were of poor quality, which prevented PIH/APZU from using the information. Since CHWs knew the data they were collecting were not being used or even analyzed, they tended not to pay attention to securing complete and correct data. In addition, the staff responsible for aggregating household chart data saw the task as an unwelcome addition to their existing workloads, which led to inconsistent data quality checks and further reduced the usability of the data.

In order to assess the quality of household chart data, PIH partnered with researchers at Harvard’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine to apply Lot Quality Assurance Sampling (LQAS). LQAS is a classification technique originally used in manufacturing to evaluate the quality of, for example, a batch (or ‘lot’) of T-shirts that a factory produces. LQAS allows the manufacturer to take a sample of T-shirts and determine if the quality of the lot is acceptable. PIH uses the same approach with household chart data—staff examine only a few household charts from a health center (the ‘lot’) and determine whether the summary data quality from dozens of CHWs is statistically good enough to produce reliable results.

In July 2011 we did a baseline LQAS assessment of data quality, using five ‘clusters’ each made up of several different health posts. The results were sobering. Four out of five clusters had poor CHW data quality. From those results, we knew intervention was needed, and which health posts needed it most. We also knew where data quality was acceptable, with one cluster acting as a positive example where we could identify what was working well and extract best practices.

Based on this initial assessment, we implemented several measures to improve data quality. Responsibility for data aggregation was given to the site supervisors at each health center, who were eager to help with the improvement effort. Other staff members were assigned the specific role of implementing quality improvement measures based on the results of the LQAS assessments, which would ensure that patients got the services they need.

The resulting improvement was overwhelming. Three months after the baseline assessment that showed 80% of clusters with poor quality, we had turned the proportion on its head. Now, 80% of clusters showed good data quality. And by March 2012, all five clusters showed good data quality. The data that were previously so fraught with quality issues could now be used to improve the quality services at PIH/APZU facilities.

By using LQAS to identify data quality issues, and then intervening to improve data quality, we made the household chart a usable, practical tool for monitoring and improving the health of our patients. By accurately measuring trends in the community and tailoring our services to meet the needs of the rural poor, PIH/APZU is better positioned to appropriately address the burden of disease. These services break our patients out of the cycle of poverty and disease that in some cases has plagued them for generations.

Learn more about PIH at www.PIH.org.

OX-DOTS Oxford – Diabetes electrOnic self-Training Sources

Dr Rani Pal is a Consultant Diabetologist from the Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire.  Dr Pal and colleagues have developed several new initiatives to improve the care of patients with diabetes, including the “Diabetes in Primary Schools Oxfordshire” programme which won the team the “Diabetes Team of the Year” award at the BMJ awards in May 2013.  Here she reflects on another project and some challenges in taking a new direction towards self-care in diabetes.

OX-DOTS seeks to discover the key to self-service, self-control, self-care of diabetes health…..


Dr Rani Pal and colleagues at the BMJ Awards 2013

The Opt-out clause

One young person said to me: “Expectations to be fit, happy and healthy places undue pressure on young people, who can then become demoralised and demotivated. The question of perfection should not be there, because of added pressure.  There is already a ‘Constant pressure’ of not living up to standards, personal differences are to be expected. It’s your life and sometimes it takes a severe illness to jolt you into it.”

Young people are living with demands in society with the added problem that poorly controlled diabetes adversely affects concentration difficulties and alterations in mood or behaviour.

I gathered that the vast amount of printed literature and information on websites/ media sources is still an opt-out – of not paying attention to it? Or perhaps sources are not enticing or attractive enough to capture the patients’ interest.

Why Target Diabetes?

Around 3.1million people (7.4% UK population) and 347million worldwide have diabetes (T1DM, T2DM).   This is predicted to rise to 4.6million (9.5% UK population) by 2030; diabetes morbidity requires ‘a lifelong package
of care’ and remains a considerable burden for Health Services. Simple lifestyle measures (healthy diet, regular physical activity) can potentially prevent/delay the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, but Type 1 diabetes is not preventable.  Diabetes will be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030. Up to 24,000 people with diabetes are dying in England each year from avoidable causes: in those aged 15 to 34 years, compared to those without diabetes, a nine-fold increase is seen among Type 1 (1 in 360), and six-fold increase amongst T2DM (1 in 520); The 2010 National Diabetes Inpatient Audit accounts for 15% of inpatient bed days, where one third of patients experienced at least one medication error.

Why target Children and Young Adults?

Of 29,000 UK children with T1DM, around 40% are primary school age-group: a rising incidence (4% per year) and doubling for each decade is seen, with many under 5 years. A significant number of teenagers are developing secondary
complications of nephropathy and retinopathy before the age of 20years. Minimising these health effects depends on continuously accruing knowledge and retaining a positive attitude to self-health needs.

Targeted resources used to uplift health knowledge in all members of society.

Diabetes (insulin-dependent) in Children and Young Adults is different from other health conditions as it requires 24 hours close attention from carers, continuous dynamic interaction and dialogue, understanding, discussion and problem solving of specific issues, and motivating self- responsibility for life health management. To partake in all aspects of a normal life, children depend on everyone being informed – at home, during school, social or leisure
activities. Parents, friends and relatives, school staff and public all have a role to support them to retain optimum health and glucose control, so that their well-being prevents future health complications which are linked to diabetes, namely eye and kidney disease.

Although there is an array of copious electronic-information and many national and international websites relaying diabetes health information, we want to identify which channels of dialogue are used most frequently by young people with diabetes to empower self-education and management of their diabetes condition.

Questions and challenges

  • What is the most effective way to impact on a change of culture and attitude for the present generation?
  • How can we examine self-training methods and a variety of information sources and communications?
  • What are the most likely sources of Electronic information that young people with diabetes, their families and friends are most likely to utilise?
  • What other channels of dialogue and interaction can be used to empower self-education and management of health condition?
  • Progressive e-tools – are they the young persons’ choice?
  • Can they relate to these as they grow and develop, to progress on their life-long self-education?
  • With your experience, are you able take up the chalice of self-care or propose how to develop this for young people with diabetes?

NHS Directive for Self-care

In 2006, the DOH published a white paper, “Our health, our care, our say: a new direction for community services” . It outlines a vision for healthcare as, “meeting people’s aspirations for independence and greater control over their lives, making services flexible and responsive to individual needs”. “Self care is about people taking responsibility for their own health and well being”. “Self management is about people making the most of their lives by coping with difficulties and making the most of what they have”.

OX-DOTS wants to know your views, suggestions, difficult aspirations, campaigns and solutions!

Tasting a bitter pill for NHS Change Day

Damian Roland is pledging for NHS Change Day.

Damian Roland is pledging for NHS Change Day.

Dr. Damian Roland, who is hosting a webinar for BMJ Quality on Tuesday 19th February for BMJ Quality, talks about how your pledge could help change patient and staff experiences. Dr. Roland is a NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow at Leicester University and Senior Registrar in Paediatric Emergency Medicine at the University of Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. He has research interests in education evaluation and improving recognition of unwell children in acute and emergency care settings. He also has a strong interest in trainee engagement and representation and has been a past chair of the both the AoMRC and RCPCH Trainees Committees.

The NHS is currently going through big changes, however, regardless of what is happening now with reforms and financial pressures, we know that clinical and managerial management is not optimal. Following national guidance, communicating with patients, providing adequate education and training, and many small changes to current practice could have a large impact on patient outcomes and staff engagement. Junior doctors are in the best position to notice this and to help make changes, but are often limited by time, status or motivation.

It is from a group of such junior doctors that NHS Change Day was realised – but change day belongs to all who work in or for the NHS.  After all we all work closely together, and anyone who has been on a work or department night out will note the sense of camaraderie amongst health care professionals who have worked together in tough times. Despite this, the enormous NHS, much like a steam roller, is a machine that does not move quickly;  it eventually gets to its destination and achieves it goals, but the weight of the journey is slow and painful for the healthcare team that powers it.

So, although initially proposed as a junior doctor led promotion of quality improvement action to occur simultaneously on one day, it is now a call to collective action for any NHS employee to pledge to do one or more things to aid patients or staff.

Pledges can be as simple as spending time with patients to ask for their feedback,  to alter the way a routine task is carried out; or supporting campaigns such as the Sepsis Six. The hope is that others will pledge their support as well. Although

Professor Sir Bruce Edward Keogh, KBE, FRCS has been Medical Director of the National Health Service in England since 2007 and National Medical Medical Director of the NHS Commissioning Board since 2012. Here is with (from right to left; Laura-Jane Smith, Natalie Silvey, Bruce Keogh, Damian Roland and Jackie Lynton) junior doctors involved in NHS Change Day.

Professor Sir Bruce Edward Keogh, KBE, FRCS has been Medical Director of the National Health Service in England since 2007 and National Medical Medical Director of the NHS Commissioning Board since 2012. Here he is with junior doctors Laura-Jane Smith, Natalie Silvey, Damian Roland and Jackie Lynton who are junior doctors involved in NHS Change Day.

these actions could, and should, be taking place everyday, NHS Change Day will act as a unifying one day opportunity for groups to overcome potential bureaucracies and inertias.

The day is 13 March 2013.  It will be the single largest improvement event in the NHS to date. The goal is to mobilise 65,000 NHS staff  (1000 for each year since the NHS was first established) to take action voluntarily to demonstrate their commitment to improving patient care and create a movement which could lead to further NHS Change Days. Anyone working in the NHS can commit by signing up on NHS Change Day Pledge Wall: www.changemodel.nhs.uk/changeday

My personal pledge is to taste a variety of the paediatric medicines I prescribe. A simple, but patient centred pledge to help me understand how foul tasting some medicines are for children and the difficulties the parents may have giving them. This also demonstrates that pledges can be about anything and don’t have to be radical or process focused.   I hope other health care professionals will individually or, perhaps together, combine their talents, to take this opportunity now, during the greatest period of transformation in the NHS, to stop the weight of the steam roller getting the better of us.

Introducing Palliative Care to a remote Alaskan island

Dr. Eleanor M. Jansen trained as a General Practitioner in the UK, and after getting married, moved to the remote island of Kodiak, Alaska where her husband works. She now co-ordinates a palliative care service on the island, and describes her journey, here.

Dr Eleanor Jansen gets to grips with a new system in Kodiak, Alaska.

Dr Eleanor Jansen gets to grips with a new system in Kodiak, Alaska.

Living on Kodiak Island, Alaska, the hardest part of my day may actually be making it as far as the hospital entrance: scraping layers of ice from the windscreen, driving the treacherous miles, remembering to park into the wind so my truck door isn’t ripped off, and tip toeing across the parking lot in my ice cleats, looking out for that bear who refuses to hibernate.But once I make it through the door, helping to implement a new palliative care service at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center has it’s own challenges. The team formed about a year prior to my entering as coordinator and there was already enthusiasm from several hospital disciplines to bring an extra layer of support to patients and families dealing with serious and life-threatening illness.My main challenges are to bring structure to the service, promote the team, educate and plan for the future.

Reading America’s Care of Serious Illness: A State-by-State Report Card on Access to Palliative Care in Our Nation’s Hospitals, a 2011 collaboration between the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) and the National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC) [1], I feel proud that our little 25 bed hospital has a service at all. Palliative care is one of the fastest-growing trends in US health care and the number of programs within hospital settings has increased by 138 percent since 2000, yet, despite those nationwide improvements, just 2 out of 7 small hospitals in Alaska, with under 50 beds, have a Palliative Care program.

A needs assessment and defining exactly your scope of practice are among the first tasks of setting up a program. Thanks to, among others, CAPC and their wealth of publicly available tools and resources, there is plenty of information available. I encourage programs not to reinvent the wheel, but to seek tools already in use and adapt these to the needs of your team.

Kodiak, Alaska

Kodiak, Alaska

Beware of selling yourself before your systems, protocols and forms are in place, but do think ahead about advertising your team. There will be pressure to market the service early on, but don’t touch the tar baby! A recent audio conference from CAPC highlighted palliative care services becoming quickly saturated is a common downfall in the start-up phase.Establish relationships with disciplines outside the team – nursing staff, pharmacy, administration – as they will be your advocates and a tremendous support. I also recommend reaching out to various resources and finding out what else is out there to support your service. Here in Kodiak I have made close ties with Home Health (similar to District Nurses), the new volunteer Hospice of Kodiak and I am getting to know about other resources such as the “Senior Center.”

Educating staff about the palliative care team’s role is an ongoing challenge. Recent opinion polling revealed that palliative care is relatively unknown to the US public and poorly understood by many health care providers [2]. Palliative Care’s relationship with hospice is also misunderstood. Here in the US, hospice has more defined parameters based upon prognosis, relinquishing curative treatment, etc. Helping physicians see that early referral to palliative care, in some cases at the time of diagnosis, can help tailor care to patient goals and improve quality of life. Meeting with doctors and other staff on a one-to-one basis and presenting at medical staff and admin meetings has been most effective at promoting the team. Putting together a short ‘elevator speech’ is useful too in those “crunch time” moments. It is worthwhile advertising the service as a time saver to physicians and a team who can have those long and often difficult conversations about treatment decisions, advance care planning, resuscitation and so on.

It has been equally essential to keep the patient’s primary physician central to care and to be seen as additional support versus taking over. In Kodiak, the family physician comes to the hospital to manage the patient. Understandably, physicians here in Kodiak are protective of their patients and the only hand over from family physician-to-hospital staff comes if the patient needs to be flown to a distant facility for treatment unavailable on Kodiak Island. As a GP in the UK, I often breathed a sigh of relief when I handed over a very sick patient to a higher level of care at the hospital, as I knew I was reaching the limits of what I could do in the community. No such relief for physicians here.

Dr Jansen meets the bears of Kodiak Island

Dr Jansen meets the bears of Kodiak Island

What is clear to me, being in a new country, system and environment, is that different places have different habits and things ‘have always been done that way.’ Introducing a new branch of medicine, with it’s growing evidence base, can challenge those traditional ways of doing things, and can take time and effort to be accepted.The son of a patient who died said to me the other week that the involvement of palliative care had brought ‘a sense of calm.’ If that is what we achieve for families, then our efforts bringing palliative care to this island are beginning to come to fruition.


[1] America’s Care of Serious Illness: A State-by-State Report Card on Access to Palliative Care in Our Nation’s Hospitals, May 2011. Available at  http://www.capc.org/reportcard/

[2] Center to Advance Palliative Care. 2011 public opinion research on palliative care: A report based on research by Public Opinion Strategies. Available at: http://www.capc.org/tools-for-palliative-care-programs/marketing/public-opinion-research/2011-public-opinion-research-on-palliative-care.pdf


Lessons learnt: A junior doctor describes challenges to improving quality

'I graduated from Birmingham Medical School in 2008 and moved to London for my foundation years as a junior doctor. I decided to specialise in Psychiatry and in 2010 I joined the Royal Free Training Scheme. I am now currently working as a CT3 in Old Age Psychiatry at St Ann’s Hospital'.

‘Dr Jennifer Perry graduated from Birmingham Medical School in 2008 and moved to London for her foundation years as a junior doctor. She decided to specialise in Psychiatry and in 2010 joined the Royal Free Training Scheme. She is now currently working as a CT3 in Old Age Psychiatry at St Ann’s Hospital’.

Dr. Jennifer Perry describes the challenges to implementing a quality improvement project here.

We undertook a Quality Improvement Project (QIP) to create a workshop for patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia within the Haringey Community Rehabilitation Team (HCRT). This was a result of the Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust Patient Experience Questionnaire which highlighted that patients within the HCRT did not feel that information about their medication was explained to them in an understandable way.

Sustainability and Engagement of Staff

We faced a number of challenges to our QIP. One of the key issues was that of sustainability as I, as the project lead, was only part of the team for six months and so there was the worry that the project would be difficult to continue after I had left. There were a number ways we overcame this. The project engaged all HCRT members, as many of them helped to co-facilitate the workshop, and so this ensured that everyone was involved which made it a more sustainable project. A protocol was developed which offered a step by step account of how to plan and implement the workshops which would allow other people to run them. I liaised with the incoming junior doctor to ensure that she would be willing to continue running these workshops, which she was. The project was an agenda item at each team clinical governance meeting which again helped to ensure longevity. Therefore, to overcome the challenge of sustainability, my advice would be to engage all of the key stakeholders early on in the project (including future junior doctors), link the project in with local clinical governance and to formalise the process through writing a protocol.

Engagement of Service Users

A challenge we faced was how to engage service users in the workshops as it was felt that some patients might lack the motivation to attend. We developed a process whereby in advance of the workshop date we would contact the care home and speak with the manager; we would ask the manager to then speak with all of the residents in their care home to tell them about the workshop. We would then send out individual personalised invitations to each service user giving them information about the content of the workshop as well as details of the date, time and venue. Care co-ordinators who looked after clients in each care home where the workshops were being held were asked to speak with their clients to encourage them to attend. Where possible we tried to ensure that the group co-facilitator for each care home workshop was a care co-ordinator who looked after at least some of the service users living there. This highlighted that in order to engage other people in your QIP (this could be patients or staff members) you need to have a variety of methods to promote it and to be proactive in this.

Communication and Organisation

One difficulty we encountered was that there were on occasions miscommunications between our team and the care homes so that two of the workshops had to be cancelled. The lesson learnt from this was the importance of liaising with the care home well in advance of the workshop date and ensuring that this communication was via telephone as well as via email. In order to overcome difficulties such as this it would be advisable to prepare QIP interventions well in advance and maintain good communication with all those involved.

Designing an intervention to meet patient’s needs

Another challenge was that we implemented a workshop which we as mental health professionals had designed. We were uncertain as to whether or not this workshop would meet patients’ needs. To enable us to assess this we built in a section in the workshop introduction where service users introduced themselves and said what they would like to get out of the workshops. The workshops were then made as interactive as possible so that attendees could give their reflections, opinions and thoughts as well as ask their own questions. We distributed feedback questionnaires to the service users at the end of every workshop. As a result of the patients’ feedback and our own observations, modifications were made after each session so that we were able to develop a workshop that was tailored to the needs of the service users. The Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle gave us a formal structure in which to implement and monitor changes. This highlighted the usefulness of PDSA cycles and the importance of obtaining service user feedback on QIP interventions where it is appropriate (as ultimately it is service users who should be benefiting from QIPs).

(One final piece of advice is that, where possible, your QIP intervention should be something that you enjoy doing, or that you feel passionately about, as this will help you, your colleagues and your patients to get the most out of it!)

Cycle time: The new wait time

In many cases in medical care the systems are inefficient; time is wasted because of a myriad of processes and protocols and a failure to recognise the causes of delay in these processes. Dr. Douglas Woodhouse is a physician-engineer and a healthcare consultant focusing on process improvement. Here he describes a new way to improve wait times.

Dr. Douglas Woodhouse is a physician-engineer and a healthcare consultant focusing on process improvement

Dr. Douglas Woodhouse is a physician-engineer and a healthcare consultant focusing on process improvement

Cycle time is the total time that it takes from beginning to end of a treatment process, including treatment of complications. Efficiency rises when cycle times are short because care has been provided in less time, using fewer resources. Because the impact of adverse events is included, it is also an indicator of quality. Cycle time should be adopted as a key indicator of healthcare performance, and in this article I describe how this may be done.

Long wait times for health services are a concern in many health systems. However, it is likely that some efforts to reduce wait times have actually increased the time that it takes to complete treatment. Accepting more new patients into a healthcare process (reducing the wait time) without increasing the capacity of the process merely shifts the patient backlog from before the first to the second appointment.

Because most diseases lead to progressive disability, delays in completing treatment are not just inconvenient, but lead to worse health outcomes and higher costs. In comparison to measuring wait times, or length of stay and readmission rates, cycle time is a superior measure of overall healthcare performance.

Nine Rules for Low Cycle Time

1. Cycle time must include complications.

If a hospital just measured cycle time from admission to discharge there would be incentives to skip steps, discharge people home too early, and just deal with problems later on.

The solution is to include the management of complications in the cycle time. Cycle time for surgery would start at the time of referral and end when the patient is discharged home post-surgery. If the patient developed a post-operative complication, the cycle time clock would be re-started.

If cycle time includes treatment of complications, then it is safe and appropriate to reduce cycle time as much as possible. The shortest possible cycle time can only be achieved by providing optimal care.

2. The constraint should be patient intake.

The constraint (or “bottleneck”) is the slowest process step. Wait lists develop before the constraint.

If patient intake is the constraint, then the number of patients starting and completing treatment are matched. Wait times do not grow inside the process and cycle time is minimised.

If the wait list at intake increases, then the capacity of the entire process must be increased (rather than just accepting more patients at intake and hoping for the best).

3. Cycle time must be regularly monitored.

If cycle time increases then wait times inside the process should be measured to find the constraint (not only the wait time before intake, but also wait times before other activities). Wait times should be measured as patient-days. Either a small number of patients with long waits, or a large number with short waits indicates a constraint that should trigger action.

4. Once the constraint has been identified, that activity should be sped up.

Once the constrained process step is sped up, the constraint will shift to a different step. Each constraint within the process should be identified and eliminated (until the constraint moves to intake, where it belongs).

5. Process steps should be allowed to idle.

In a process that is constrained at intake, all other steps have extra capacity. Process steps will have idle time while waiting for a patient to complete the prior step. This is acceptable, and even desirable, as long as cycle time is not increasing.

The shortest possible cycle time is defined by the minimum time required to provide all medically necessary services. Although in general shorter cycle times save money, the minimum cycle time can only be achieved if there are no resource limitations, and therefore relatively high costs. The lower left segment of the curve therefore represents the highest value (short cycle time, low cost and high quality).

The shortest possible cycle time is defined by the minimum time required to provide all medically necessary services. Although in general shorter cycle times save money, the minimum cycle time can only be achieved if there are no resource limitations, and therefore relatively high costs. The lower left segment of the curve therefore represents the highest value (short cycle time, low cost and high quality).

6. Process steps should be completed in parallel whenever possible.

Parallel process steps prevent unnecessary waiting for sequential treatment activities and therefore significantly reduce cycle time.

7. Treatment should be as standardised as possible.

At least 80% of patients should progress through the standard process steps. This means that no more than 20% of patients should receive non-standard, individualised treatment. Time that is gained (through greater efficiency) by treating the majority of patients in a standard process can be used for the minority of patients who require extra care.

8. Protocols should be followed for the standard treatment process.

Protocols reduce the variability of the process (and therefore reduce the cycle time). The standard protocol should apply to the 80% of patients that follow the standard process. On the other hand, patients that are not in the standard process should not necessarily be treated according to a protocol.

9. The most expensive process step may justify the creation of a buffer (wait list) to ensure that it is always in use.

The most expensive process step should be maximally utilised. To achieve this, a short buffer (wait list) may be created to compensate for variations in capacity and demand. The maximum wait list for this step should be clearly defined.

If this maximum is exceeded, no additional patients should be accepted into the process until the cause of the delay is identified and fixed.

An Example of Cycle Time in the Operating Theatre

Dr Doug Woodhouse will be participating in a BMJ Quality Webinar on the 15th January from 5:00 – 6:00 (GMT+0). The session will take place through the WebEx platform at quality.bmj.com.



Join our first monthly BMJ Quality Improvement Clinic


Improving healthcare by yourself isn’t easy and having the opportunity to ask experts for advice can really help your progress. Join us on Tuesday 15th January at 1700 GMT for our first monthly BMJ Quality Improvement Clinic.

This online webinar is your opportunity to put your quality improvement challenges and problems to our experts. We also hope you’ll share your own experience and solutions with others from the improvement community.

Each webinar will last 60 minutes and you will have the opportunity to submit your questions in advance. Sessions are free to attend and you don’t have to be a user of BMJ Quality Improvement Programmes to join us.

To register your interest in attending and to find out more please click here.

Tuesday 15th January 1700 GMT (London; Dublin)

0400 EDT (Sydney)
0900 PST (San Francisco; Los Angeles)
1200 EST (New York; Boston)
1800 CET (Paris; Berlin)