Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Hazard to Recognize

Last night I channel surfed onto Question Time in the British Parliament and saw Prime Minister Tony Blair and opposition leader David Cameron debating whether under Blair’s Premiership the number of hospital beds in Great Britain had increased or decreased and, in either case, whether that was good or bad. Both were making valiant efforts to make it appear that they knew what they were talking about.

It reminded me that shortly after the University of Kentucky Hospital opened in 1962, I became aware that people throughout the Medical Center were giving different answers when asked how many beds the hospital had in operation. Bill Ennis was my associate at the time and I resolved the matter by declaring that the number of beds in operation was the number that Bill Ennis said were in operation.

If individual hospitals have trouble knowing exactly how many beds they are operating at any point in time (and I assume they still do), then it seems pretty silly for high-level politicians to be debating how many beds are in operation in the entire country.

One of the hazards of large, complex organizations is the tendency of their executive heads to act like experts on subjects they know nothing about. It’s a factor worth keeping in mind as we undertake to redesign our health care system.

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