Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“Contagious” ideas that universities could benefit by catching from health care

While higher education and health care share some important characteristics and problems, many hospitals and clinics have achieved more thorough reforms than have colleges and universities.

This is the conclusion of an article from Trusteeship, the journal of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

“I firmly believe that higher education can find valuable ideas in health care—ideas that validate what some universities are already doing, and ideas that are less familiar but may have potential for universities,” writes Ellen Chaffee.

Chaffee is an AGB senior fellow and director of AGB ’s Lumina Foundation project on Governance for Student Success. She is president emerita of Valley City State University and past president of Mayville State University, the Association for Institutional Research, and the Association for the Study of Higher Education. She also chairs the board of trustees of the MeritCare Health System in
Fargo, ND.  (Click here to go to her webpage.  )

She believes that governance of many hospitals and clinics has become more strategic, with board discussions focusing less exclusively on budget and finance and more on aligning resources to achieve well-defined goals, including improvements in quality.

Chaffee offers details on the comparison.

University leaders dealing with scarce resources often believe they need to cut academic programs based on high cost or questionable mission relevance. By contrast, cutting services in this way is not on the agenda of many financially stressed health-care systems. The ability to identify more subtle but equally effective cost savings is one of the major benefits of systematic quality improvement.

For example, some health systems assign nurses to work closely with individual patients who have chronic diseases to fine-tune their treatment and promote their compliance with medical advice. This may seem like added expense, but it often lowers costs due to early intervention and increased compliance. MeritCare Health System partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota in a pilot project to explore this approach with diabetes patients. In one year, the program saved over $330,000.

Chaffee also proposes that universities could benefit from revisiting the “continuous quality improvement” approach, which sectors of health care now use to pursue evidence-based, systematic improvements.  Moreover, evidence-based medicine has become a requirement for hospital accreditation, using metrics from the government and other outside groups. Higher-education performance metrics on student learning tend to come from institutions themselves.

As a firm who has worked with universities and serves medical clients, we at Stinson Brand Innovation have seen that higher education can find potentially valuable ideas from health care.

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