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Intermountain Healthcare becoming an example to the nation

By John Daley | Posted - Nov 9th, 2009 @ 6:20pm



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A fascinating Utah story from the front lines of America's health care crisis is gaining national attention. One Utah institution, Intermountain Healthcare, has become a model by finding ways to both improve the quality of care and reduce costs.

The New York Times magazine profiled the program Sunday, with a front-page article entitled "Dr. James Will Make It Better;" President Obama has singled it out and sent advisors to Utah to learn more; and its "Advanced Training Program" has become a mecca for health care professionals looking to improve what they do.

So, how has Intermountain Healthcare become a national model? Its chief quality officer says the attention comes after many years of tracking costs and patient outcomes, and developing new protocols.

"We've demonstrated what was well-known in manufacturing for many years: nearly always, better patient results, much better costs," says Dr. Brent James, chief quality officer for Intermountain Healthcare.

The big innovation has come with measurement—measuring outcomes and then applying what's been learned to future classes.

"We started to plan it out. We started to organize it as a defined system approach. We found that when we did that and started to play as a real team, our results really improved," James says.

Through its training program, Intermountain Healthcare is planting seeds of change. At one Ohio hospital, they found by changing strategies--including by adding a clock and meeting every 30 minutes--they could get 30 percent more children out of a trauma unit early.

"My team has put the huddle in place. We put the big clock in our trauma room because what we found is we lost track of time," says Kathy Haley, trauma program manager at, Nationwide Children's Hospital.

In Kansas, one team is working to predict which emergency room patients are more likely to "crash," or deteriorate rapidly.

"Working harder doesn't make much change in health care. You've got to work smarter. You've got to change the systems," says Dr. Tim Williamson, pulmonary and critical care physician at the University of

James says that kind of thinking is now saving thousands of lives in Utah and beyond.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com

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