Category Archives: Health Care

Human Resources & Challenges in Health Care

The function of human resources is not without its challenges and difficulties. No matter the industry or organization, acquiring and managing a pool of employees can be overwhelming (Thompson, 2012). Human resources managers in health care organizations seem to face more challenges than most. From nursing and physician shortages to attracting innovative and contemporary researchers, health care organizations seem to search within thinning pools of prospective employees, yet still demand the best and brightest (Keenan, 2003; Lewis, 2010; Thompson, 2012).

One of the most challenging issues to health care over the last few decades has been a significant nationwide nursing shortage (Keenan, 2003; Lewis, 2010). Thompson (2012) outlines both a declining skilled workforce and an increasing population contributing to the problem. Both Keenan (2003) and Lewis (2010) cite the aging babyboomer population adding to the increased need for nurses through 2020 and beyond. Novel human resources strategies can result in an augmented workforce designed to meet the continually growing impact these forces have on health care organizations, specifically those with emergency departments.

One novel strategy includes consideration of other highly-skilled clinicians that do not traditionally work in hospitals. As Oglesby (2007) considers the possibility, paramedics are, by far, one of the best examples. By introducing paramedics into the emergency department, a hospital can redistribute the nurses to clinical areas more suited towards their training, decrease the patient-to-nurse ratios (thereby increasing patient safety and maximizing outcomes), and tap into a new pool of prospective employees that are well-suited to rise to the stressful demands of the emergency department (Keenan, 2003; Swain, Hoyle, & Long, 2010). Additionally, organizations employing paramedics can augment both their emergency department operations and home health care operations by sending paramedics to certain patients to mitigate their complaints and minimize the number of inappropriate patient transports to the emergency department (Swain, Hoyle, & Long, 2010). This alone would decrease emergency department overcrowding and maximize revenue and efficiency in the delivery of care. Additionally, turn-over rates should be significantly lower with a more productive work environment where stress is managed, outcomes are met, and patients are care for more effectively.

In conclusion, intelligent and novel planning of the workforce can, itself, lead to increases in recruitment and retention; however, efforts still need to focus on each individually in order to attract, maintain, and develop a first-class workforce (Thompson, 2012).


Keenan, P. (2003). The nursing workforce shortage: causes, consequences, proposed solutions (Issue brief #619). The Commonwealth Fund. Retrieved from

Lewis, L. (2010). Oregon takes the lead in addressing the nursing shortage: A collaborative effort to recruit and educate nurses. American Journal of Nursing, 110(3), 51-54. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000368955.26377.e1

Oglesby, R. (2007). Recruitment and retention benefits of EMT—Paramedic utilization during ED nursing shortages. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 33(1), 21-25. doi:10.1016/j.jen.2006.10.009

Swain, A. H., Hoyle, S. R., & Long, A. W. (2010). The changing face of prehospital care in New Zealand: the role of extended care paramedics. Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 123(1309), 11-14. Retrieved from

Thompson, J. M. (2012). The strategic management of human resources. In S. B. Buckbinder & N. H. Shanks, Introduction to Healthcare Management (Custom ed.; pp. 81-118). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Prior Proper Planning …

… Prevents Poor Performance

I am in the midst of planning an ad hoc merger of a number of local emergency medical service agencies into a single regional provider to reduce overall costs while maximizing revenue, improve training and the delivery of care, and to streamline the operational processes that support our providers in the field. Unfortunately, I have found that there are many obstacles that need to be dealt with at every step before moving on to the next. My research has certainly opened my eyes to developing a useful approach to these problems.

Planning “[provides] the appropriate focus and direction for … organizations” (Zuckerman, 2006, p. 3). Without planning, organizations risk stagnation and obsolescence. For any organization to succeed (and continue to do so), the strategy needs to focus both on the contemporary traditional needs as well as those anticipated in the future, but this focus needs to be comprehensive. Bartling (1997) writes of 25 different pitfalls any health care organization might face when considering strategic planning. These 25 pitfalls are just some of the issues I hope to avoid.

One of the largest difficulties in planning for emergency medical systems, however, is the sense of ‘fiefdom’, or an assertion of organizational ownership — in a truly feudal sense. A fiefdom is a literal power trip. In this area, there are 10 towns with an average of two ambulances each, and each department’s administration will fight tooth and nail to keep the organization from outgrowing them. What is interesting about the area is that many of the members of one department work for at least two of the other departments, also. This is because the pay is so meager they have to work as many hours as possible, and there is no chance of working more than 32 hours at any one service in any given week. The pay is low as is the quality of care. This needs to change, but how do I create an amalgumated organization from the bits and pieces that I have to work with? Add to that my lack of formal authority in this process. My vision is to reduce the number of ambulances by staffing eight ambulances at all times and tactically positioning them around the region. This alone would create 48 well-paid jobs, using the same 40 people who currently job share across organizational lines.

In reviewing the available resources, I have learned that there is no particular process or flow-chart pathway to effective planning (Bartling, 1997; Begun & Kaissi, 2005; Zuckerman, 2006). Critical forward thinking is needed, instead. Some of the particular issues that Bartling (1997) discusses and I foresee might be particular to my planning process are: inadequate planning, short-sightedness, underestimating the complexity of the process, post-merger angst, analysis paralysis, and lack of evaluative criteria, to name a few. Politics plays a large role in many of these issues I mention.

Inadequate planning, short-sightedness, and a lack of evaluative criteria are closely related. I see in the present that the system does not work as well as it should (short-sightedness), and I want to develop a plan that can be implemented immediately (probably suffering inadequate planning). This would leave me with a fragmented system devoid of vision and, therefore, crippled from improving (lacking that evaluative criteria). These are pitfalls that I need to avoid. These issues would give rise to the others dooming my effort to failure and, possibly, leaving the system in even worse shape than it began.

Perhaps, my only chance of fulfilling this process is to first perform a limited situational assessment by identifying the mission, vision, and values of all of the stakeholders and show how a streamlined process can better fulfill their visions (Casciani, 2012). By gaining stakeholder support, I might better leverage my idea against those who fear change.


Bartling, A. (1997). 25 pitfalls of strategic planning. Healthcare Executive, 12(5), 20–23.

Begun, J. & Kaissi, A. (2005). An exploratory study of healthcare strategic planning in two metropolitan areas. Journal of Healthcare Management, 50(4), 264–274.

Casciani, S. J. (2012). Strategic planning. In S. B. Buckbinder & N. H. Shanks (Eds.), Introduction to healthcare management (Custom ed.; pp. 3-23). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Zuckerman, A. (2006). Advancing the state of the art in healthcare strategic planning. Frontiers of Health Services Management, 23(2), 3–15.

Health Care Quality and Safety

Health care is a service devoted, by definition, to those who are vulnerable. People seek out health-related services during stressful times and may be easily swayed into trying less than effective methods, even ‘snake oil’ remedies, for treating their ails and pain. This being the case, the health care provider has a moral obligation to advocate for the patient. Advocacy entails considering only what is in the best interest of others, even to the detriment of one’s self. Patient advocacy helps to ensure both health care quality and safety. The Institute of Medicine defines health care as “[the] degree to which health services for individuals or populations increase the likelihood of desired health outcomes and are consistent with the current professional knowledge” (as cited in Savage & Williams, 2012, p. 26). Savage and Williams (2012) discuss the importance of effective and efficient delivery of health care, which means avoiding overuse (providing services to those who will least benefit) and underuse (failing to provide services to those that would benefit) stating, “quality is important in health care because there are limited resources to improve the health of both individuals and the population as a whole” (p. 72).

According to Savage and Williams (2012), all stakeholders are affected by the level of quality in health care. From a patient’s perspective, health care delivery should be aimed at addressing the patient’s problem with the least invasive, yet most effective, therapy possible. Delivering health care is a high-risk endeavor that focuses the risk towards the patient, potentially causing harm and great suffering. The provider, driven by the desire to help without harming, would benefit greatly by the development of ‘best practices’, or evidence-based practice, in order to help the most people with the available resources. Additionally, providers wish to be paid a fair rate in exchange for the services performed, and this can only occur in an efficient system with little waste to impact revenue. On the other hand, third-party payors, the most prolific purchasers of health care, demand the most effective and efficient services in return for their payment in order to control the costs of their own services. Third-party payors, like Medicare, Blue Cross, and others, have such a large client base that they are able to effectively negotiate health care services for lower rates.

As a health care manager, it is increasingly important to ensure quality and safety in the delivery of health services. Medical malpractice litigation, according to Savage and Williams (2012), is costly to practitioners and organizations, even though it does little to deter poor quality. Rather than relying on the courts to make forceful recommendations, an effective manager can use tools already available to promote best practice within their organization. For instance, continuous quality improvement (CQI) programs promote systematic, data-driven process improvements focused by the customer’s perceptions. CQI can uncover interferring processes and can make modest to significant improvements that can indirectly improve other, linear processes, thereby, making greater improvements, overall.


Savage, G. T. & Williams, E. S. (2012). Performance improvement in health care: The quest to achieve quality. In S. B. Buckbinder, N. H. Shanks, & C. R. McConnell (Eds.), Introduction to healthcare management (Custom ed.; pp. 25-79). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Leadership: Determining the Best Approach

 The true value of leadership is empowerment, or the ability to promote those traits through the chain of command for subordinates to use to effectively make decisions that are in the spirit of the vision of the leader (Buchbinder, Shanks, & McConnell, 2012; Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991; Wieck, Prydun, & Walsh, 2002). When leaders make decisions, the focus is not on the myopic view of the here and now but reflects the nature of ethics and vision promoting the endeavor (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991).

Buchbinder, Shanks, and McConnell (2012), discuss various strategies and attitudes employed to both lead and manage the health care workforce. Though each of the styles presented are effectively used in certain scenarios, many managers and ineffective leaders misuse these styles due to misplaced attitudes, trust, and motives. These styles are authoritarian, bureaucratic, participative, theory Z, laissez-faire, and situational. The authoritarian and bureaucratic styles are closely related as dictatorial and at risk for involving micromanagement; however, authoritarians tend to be motivated by their responsibilities, whereas bureaucrats tend to disregard their responsibilities. The participative and theory Z styles are more democratic and egalitarian describing the usefulness of a majority opinion or consensus before moving forward. Though these styles could result in indecision, they are best implemented when a leader has ultimate decision-making capabilities and relies on his or her subordinates for input. Laissez-faire leadership is typically characterized as the hands off approach. Laissez-faire leadership, when used correctly, relies on the specialized training or focused scope of the work of the subordinates and lends guidance only when necessary. Laissez-faire leadership, however, can provide refuge for a lazy manager. Situational leadership is the use of all or some of the styles described above depending on the specific circumstances of a given situation. For instance, providing guidance to a new employee might benefit from an authoritarian approach; however, deciding on the best approach to implementing a new process might benefit from a participative style of leadership.

In the emergency medical services, a move has been made over the last decade to separate from the authoritarian leadership of the fire service. In my opinion (due to the gross lack of research within both the fire and emergency medical services), the attitudes of the fire service leadership do not correspond well with the manner in which paramedics wish to be led. As paramedics are formally educated and expected to perform as skilled clinicians in the field, they tend to operate independently and view their supervisors more as a resource tool than as tactical or clinical decision-makers. Combination departments, or those that operate both fire and emergency medical services, would do well with developing situational leadership skills to guide both operations (Mujtaba & Sungkhawan, 2009). Though paramedics may utilize an authoritarian style of leadership during an emergency call (and, do well to follow such styles in these environments), during normal day-to-day operations, paramedics respond much better towards a laissez-faire, or indirect, style of leadership that allows for independent critical thinking (Buchbinder, Shanks, & McConnell, 2012; Freshman & Rubino, 2002). For example, during a call, I expect that when I direct my crew to perform a certain task that it is completed immediately; however, between calls when I might say that in a particular scenario a certain intervention is necessary, I expect some discussion to aid in the learning of my crews and to help develop and hone their critical thinking skills.

True leadership has its own rewards, primarily, empowering those who follow to synthesize the traits of their leaders and evolve into leaders, themselves. This, in addition to watching your own visions take root and flourish.


Buchbinder, S. B., Shanks, N. H., & McConnell, C. R. (2012). Introduction to healthcare management (Laureate Education, Inc., Custom ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Freshman, B. & Rubino, L. (2002). Emotional intelligence: a core competency for health care administrators. Health Care Manager, 20(4), 1-9. Retrieved from

Kirkpatrick, S. A. & Locke, E. A. (1991). Leadership: Do traits matter? Academy of Management Executive, 5(2), 48-60. doi:10.5465/AME.1991.4274679

Mujtaba, B. G. & Sungkhawan, J. (2009). Situational leadership and diversity management coaching skills. Journal of Diversity Management, 4(1), 1-55. Retrieved from

Wieck, K. L., Prydun, M., & Walsh, T. (2002). What the emerging workforce wants in its leaders. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 34(3), 283-288. doi:10.1111/j.1547-5069.2002.00283.x

Leading the Way in Health Care

As the mantra states: when you have it, well, you just have it. As true as that may be in regards to political and social attributes, the statement does not preclude the ability of anyone to learn to ‘have it’, but what is ‘it’? Every enterprise is started by a singular idea, and many ideas may come together to form the basis of any enterprise, but it takes a visionary mind to manifest these ideas. The people with these ideas are leaders who, by their very nature, are agents of change. These leaders tend to seek each other out when they have a common purpose and create solutions and fill voids that address problems in need of answers. However, once the paradigm of the enterprise is expressed, manpower is needed to ensure its operation and success. Much of this manpower is entrusted to managers who may appreciate the vision and goals of the enterprise but lack the vision themselves to affect significant change, and although this statement sounds pessimistic towards the manager’s abilities, hope is not lost. Managers can, and do, learn to be leaders. Further, one does not require a management position to be a leader; leadership is both intuitive and learned (Buckbinder, Shanks, & McConnell, 2012).

Aside from being visionaries, leaders need to be socially adept in order to promote their views and constructs; therefore, in order to gain the trust and respect of subordinates, managers should strive to hone attitude and behavior to be more fit to lead (Freshman & Rubino, 2002). Mayer and Salovey describe four specific abilities that can improve one’s emotional skill set, also known as emotional intelligence (EI): “(1) the accurate perception, appraisal, and expression of emotions; (2) generating feelings on demand when they can facilitate understanding of yourself or another person; (3) understanding emotions and the knowledge that can be derived from them; and (4) the regulation of emotion to promote emotional and intellectual growth” (as cited in Freshman & Rubino, 2002, p. 3).

The importance of EI is evident in the highly ethically charged environment of health care. Many recommendations have been made to cultivate EI within health care, both with clinicians and administrators, yet it is not evident that this has been taking place, according to Freshman and Rubino (2002). Perhaps, at least philosophically, one must know themselves before attempting to truly know others, but being comfortable with one’s self and possessing the ability to relate and empathize with others, especially in the health fields where patients are vulnerable and providers are, themselves, empaths, will offer a manager leadership capabilities that will create trust and mutual respect in the workforce. Applied to health care adminstration, EI can be divided into five components (e.g. self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, social awareness, social skills) that can be programmatically improved using training and career development opportunities with the organization.

Self-awareness goes back to the previous philosophical statement about knowing one’s self. We must take inventory of ourselves constantly in order to ensure that we understand our own strengths, weaknesses, as well as our motivations. Self-regulation, an important ethical descriptor, allows us to improve our own personal ethics in order to make difficult decisions more easily and without troubling remorse. Tough choices are made daily in the health care setting, and a leader should be able to make these decisions ethically with compassion and understanding. Self-motivation involves challenging one’s self daily to preserve the desire and passion personally and professionally. Social awareness is borne of the former components that allow one to consider the effect decisions have on others. Finally, social skills are necessary for effective communication, especially when considering the need to promote ideas and negotiate with others. These skills, inherent in great leaders, are beneficial to the health care administrator and beneficial, over all, to the health care organization.


Buchbinder, S. B., Shanks, N. H., & McConnell, C. R. (2012). Introduction to healthcare management. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Buchbinder, S. B. & Thompson, J. M. (2010). Career opportunities in health care management: Perspectives in the field. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Freshman, B. & Rubino, L. (2002). Emotional intelligence: a core competency for health care administrators. Health Care Manager, 20(4), 1-9.

Profile of a Health Care Manager

According to Buchbinder and Thompson (2010), formal training in hospital administration did not exist until 1934 when Michael M. Davis, along with the University of Chicago, developed the first Health Administration program, combining both business and social education to meet the dynamic and unique needs of health care. In today’s economy of almost 10% unemployment nationwide, the health care field continues to grow, even in the face of uncertain regulation and remuneration (Fiscella, 2011; Sanburn, 2011; Scangos, 2009). However, as the economy continues to stagnate, health care providers still require to paid for their services. This is where the health care manager comes in.

A good health care manager is expected to make decisions that benefit both the organization and the client. Although health care is a business, one might say that it is expected to be the most ethical of all businesses as people’s lives are dependent upon its efficacy and continuity. As such, health care managers are expected, according to Buchbinder and Thompson (2010), to have a high ethical standard along with a requisite savvy business sense. Health care managers are also expected to have refined interpersonal skills, leadership, and integrity. Katz (as cited in Buchbinder & Thompson, 2010) defines the characteristics of an effective manager as possessing critical thinking and complex problem solving skills, expertise in their field, and the ability to effectively communicate with others.

Health care managers can work in a variety of settings and operate under many titles; however, these settings can be defined by two descriptors: direct care and nondirect care. Direct care settings, as described by Buchbinder and Thompson (2010), are those settings in which services are provided directly to the patient. Managers within direct care settings should be customer-focused with great interpersonal skills and dedication. These managers should also be excellent problem solvers, as direct consumers tend to require more expedient solutions than ubiquitous deadlines permit. A person may be better suited for this role if he or she enjoys dealing with the general public and solving complex problems with limited information. Nondirect care settings, on the other hand, can be described as health care support organizations as they might provide supplies, logistics, and expertise to those in direct care settings. Managers within nondirect care settings need to be more business savvy as they will typically interact with clients and associates on that level than, per se, a patient-provider level. Nondirect care managers must also be skilled in marketing and finance. Those with an affinity to these roles might possess more professional or technical skills, focusing more on business than personal relationships.

Both direct and nondirect care settings are important to the delivery of health care, today. Buchbinder and Thompson (2011) describe each as well-paying with opportunity, commensurate with education and experience, to advance within the field of health care management. Health care is both growing and changing, and it is a promising occupational arena.


Buchbinder, S. B. & Thompson, J. M. (2010). Career opportunities in health care management: Perspectives in the field. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Fiscella, K. (2011). Health care reform and equity: promise, pitfalls, and prescriptions. Annals of Family Medicine, 9(1), 78–84. doi:10.1370/afm.1213

Sanburn, J. (2011, August 18). Health care industry growth beginning to slow. Time Moneyland. Retrieved from

Scangos, G. A. (2009). Proceeding in a receding economy. Nature Biotechnology, 27(5), 424-425. doi:10.1038/nbt0509-424

Self-Assessment: Finding My Niche

 Combining the business-sense with the altruistic nature of health care, a health care manager is truly unique in focus. Some of the virtues and qualities a health care manager must posses for a long and rewarding career include a high sense integrity and of one’s self, emotional intelligence, the ability to think critically and globally, and must be equitable and just to both colleagues and clients, customers, and patients (Buchbinder, Shanks, & McConnell, 2012; Buchbinder & Thompson, 2010a).

A qualitative self-administered inventory instrument, presented by Buchbinder and Thompson (2010b), provides some insight into the qualities and virtues useful and, perhaps at times, necessary to pursue a management career in health care. The instrument, designed in Likert fashion, presents quality statements with which the subject is to agree or disagree, whether strongly or not (Likert, 1932). Although this instrument is based on the authors’ opinion, albeit expert, and there is no scoring mechanism recommended aside from high is better than low, I performed the inventory as a self-assessment to help identify some of my strengths and weaknesses (Buchbinder & Thompson, 2010a). The scoring was performed by assigning values to the the statements: 5 for strongly agree, 4 for agree, 2 for disagree, and 1 for strongly disagree, and dividing the sum of the answers scored by the median neutral value of 3 (Garland, 1991; Likert, 1932).

My score using the instrument was 153 out of 180 (85.00%). According to Buchbinder and Thompson (2010a), I possess more skills than not for a management career in health care. The lack of import placed on time management and project management seem to be two of my weaknesses, according to the instrument; although without further scrutiny, it is hard to tell if these particular items may actually suggest otherwise (Buchbinder & Thompson, 2010b; Clason & Dormody, 1994). The instrument helped to identify my critical thinking skills and my communication skills as strengths that would be useful in a health care management career (Buchbinder & Thompson, 2010b). It also showed that I have a strong ethical focus on integrity and equity.

Qualitative self-assessment instruments, such as the one developed by Buchbinder and Thompson (2010b), allow the subject insight as to the appropriateness of something like a career choice or lifestyle. Being honest with one’s self in using these self-assessment tools will also help to inform the subject of characteristics in need of cultivation.


Buchbinder, S. B., Shanks, N. H., & McConnell, C. R. (2012). Introduction to healthcare management (Laureate Education, Inc., Custom ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Buchbinder, S. B. & Thompson, J. M. (2010a). Career opportunities in health care management: Perspectives in the field. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Buchbinder, S. B. & Thompson, J. M. (2010b). Healthcare management talent quotient quiz. Career opportunities in health care management: Perspectives in the field (pp. 5-7). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Clason, D. L. & Dormody, T. J. (1994). Analyzing data measured by individual Likert-type items. Journal of Agricultural Education, 35(4), 31-35. doi:10.5032/jae.1994.04031

Garland, R. (1991). The mid-point on a rating scale: Is it desirable? Marketing Bulletin, 2, 66-70. Retrieved from

Likert, R. (1932). A technique for the measurement of attitudes. Archives of Psychology, 22(140), 1–55.


Challenges in Developing  Standards

The U.S. health care industry is contemplating the implementation of pay-for-performance reimbursement schemes in order to increase quality and safety in the delivery of health care. Pay-for-performance is a business model that combines reduced compensation for those who fail to meet standards and bonus payments for those that meet or exceed the stated expectations, but the results of such programs, thus far, is mixed (Baker, 2003; Campbell, Reeves, Kontopantelis, Sibbald, & Roland, 2009; Lee & Ferris, 2009; Young et al., 2005). The introduction of pay-for-performance models is primarily to provide relief from other, more extreme, reimbursement models, such as fee-for-service (which rewards overuse) and capitation (which rewards underuse), and with rising health care costs, a diminishing economy, and the increasing number of Americans lacking adequate health insurance, its introduction to the U.S. health care system could not be more timelier (Lee & Ferris, 2009).

The impetus of contemporary pay-for-performance schemes is derived from a report from the Institute of Medicine (2001). This report argued that current reimbursement schemes fail to reward quality in health care and may possibly create a barrier to innovation (Baker, 2003; Young et al., 2005). There are many international supporters of health care pay-for-performance, especially in England where the National Health Service employs pay-for-performance to keep costs under control while attempting to provide for quality and safety in the delivery of primary health care (Baker, 2003; Campbell et al., 2009; Young et al., 2005). However, the adoption of pay-for-performance seems to face many challenges.

One challenge to pay-for-performance implementation concerns the effectiveness in the overall continuity of care. Campbell et al. (2009) conducted an analysis of the effect of pay-for-performance in England and found that, although implementation of pay-for-performance in 2004 resulted in short-term gains in the quality of care, the improvements receded to pre-2004 levels. Beyond the pay-for-performance standards, though, the quality of care in areas not associated with incentives declined. Cameron (2011) reports on a recent study of the effectiveness of pay-for-performance on hypertension – the study shows no improvement in any measure including the incidence of stroke, heart attack, renal failure, heart failure, or combined mortality among the group (Lee & Ferris, 2009). McDonald and Roland (2009) describe these effects on other aspects of care as unintended consequences detrimental to health care quality and safety as a whole.

Another significant challenge to pay-for-performance implementation is ensuring that certain patient populations continue to be able to access appropriate care (McDonald & Roland, 2009). Under some pay-for-performance schemes, practices with a sicker patient demographic (i.e. geriatrics, oncology, neonatology, etc.) will suffer economically despite providing a higher level of care than their counterparts in family medicine or other more generalized practices. Specific concerns address a physicians ability to choose not to treat patients due to their non-compliance with medical orders (McDonald & Roland, 2009). Equity and access cannot suffer under a just reimbursement model, just as physicians with a sicker demographic should not suffer.

Identifying a reliable standard of measure in health care quality proves difficult. Earlier methods, such as those developed by Campbell, Braspenning, Hutchinson, and Marshall (2002), initially appeared sound, but ineffective methods and unintended consequences were soon identified (Cameron, 2011; Lee & Ferris, 2009; McDonald & Roland, 2009). More recent work by Steyerberg et al. (2010) shows that new approaches are on the horizon and that pay-for-performance may still remain a viable scheme, providing the measures and standards are, in fact, legitimate and accurately identify improved quality without detracting from other aspects of heath care. Steyerberg et al. identifies novel approaches to prediction models that may help to standardize measures in pay-for-performance schemes to be more realistic and reliable without causing many of the unintended consequences of earlier plans.

As we become more technologically advanced and find ways, albeit expensive, to cure and treat diseases that until now were intractable, we must address the ethics surrounding the provision of this care as a system of management. By combining the whole of health care into the ethics discussion, we opt to leave no one wanting for care, but we now have to address the problem of paying for the expensive care that we have all but demanded. Pay-for-performance, though not perfect, shows much promise in keeping health care costs manageable. However, we must strive to identify those patients and practitioners that lose out under this system of reimbursement and strive to identify just and ethical means of repairing the scheme. Though, we should first answer the question: is health care a right or a privilege?


Baker, G. (2003). Pay for performance incentive programs in healthcare: market dynamics and business process. Retrieved from

Cameron, D. (2011, January 27). Pay-for-Performance does not improve patient health. Harvard Medical School News. Retrieved from 012611_serumaga_soumerai/index.html

Campbell, S. M., Braspenning, J., Hutchinson, A., & Marshall, M. (2002). Research methods used in developing and applying quality indicators in primary care. Quality and Safety in Health Care, 11(4), 358–364. doi:10.1136/qhc.11.4.358

Campbell, S. M., Reeves, D., Kontopantelis, E., Sibbald, B., & Roland, M. (2009). Effects of pay for performance on the quality of primary care in England. New England Journal of Medicine, 361(4), 368-378. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa0807651

Institute of Medicine. (2001). Crossing the quality chasm: A new health system for the 21st century. Retrieved from

Lee, T. H. & Ferris, T. G. (2009). Pay for performance: a work in progress. Circulation, 119(23), 2965-2966. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.869958

McDonald, R. & Roland, M. (2009). Pay for performance in primary care in England and California: comparison of unintended consequences. Annals of Family Medicine, 7(2), 121–127. doi:10.1370/afm.946

Steyerberg, E. W., Vickers, A. J., Cook, N. R., Gerds, T., Gonen, M., Obuchowski, N., … Kattane, M. W. (2010). Assessing the performance of prediction models: A framework for traditional and novel measures. Epidemiology, 21(1), 128–138. doi:10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181c30fb2

Young, G. J., White, B., Burgess, J. F., Berlowitz, D., Meterko, M., Guldin, M. R., & Bokhour, B. G. (2005). Conceptual issues in the design and implementation of pay-for-quality programs. American Journal of Medical Quality, 20(3), 144-50. doi:10.1177/1062860605275222

Electronic medical records:

The Push and the Pull

Increasing safety and efficiency in medicine can only lead to an increase in health care quality, right? Some might not agree, especially when it comes to the implementation of electronic medical records (EMRs). There is a federal effort to ensure all medical records are in digital format by 2014, and supporters of EMR technology laud their effectiveness at minimizing medical errors, keeping records safe, facilitating information portability, and increasing cost-efficiency overall (The HWN Team, 2009; Preidt, 2009). Unfortunately, many are skeptical of the cost, security, and utility of such systems (Brown, 2008; The HWN Team, 2009; Preidt, 2009; Terry, 2009). These concerns (and others) are dramatically slowing the pace of EMR adoption, especially in smaller private practices where cost is a significant issue (Ford, Menachemi, Peterson, & Huerta, 2009).

Does EMR adoption actually increase safety? As Edmund, Ramaiah, and Gulla (2009) point out, a working computer terminal is required in order to read the EMR. If the computer system fails, there is no longer access to the medical record. This could be detrimental in a number of cases, especially when considering emergency medicine. Edmund, Ramaiah, and Gulla also describe how difficult it can be to maintain such a system. With this in mind, it is plain that as the system ages there will be more frequent outages and, therefore, more opportunity for untoward effects. Further, recent research shows how EMRs enforce pay-for-performance schemes that many U.S. physicians resent. McDonald and Roland (2009) demonstrate that physicians in California would rather disenroll patients who are noncompliant when reimbursed under pay-for-performance models enforced by the EMR software. Declining to treat patients who express their personal responsibility and choice in their own medical treatment cannot improve the effectiveness of safety in the care that they receive.

There needs to be a middle ground. Baldwin (2009) offers some great real world examples of how some hospitals and practices use hybrid systems to ensure effectiveness and quality while enjoying the benefits of digital records. According to Baldwin, there are many concerns to account for when considering a move from an all paper charting system to an all digital system. Many times, these concerns cannot be allayed and concessions between the two systems must be made. Brown (2008) suggests providing a solid education to the front-line staff regarding EMR implementation, and hence, obtaining their ‘buy in’ to the process to create a smoother transition to implementation. However, this does not address the safety concerns. Baldwin’s advice to analyze which processes should be computerized allows a solid business approach to EMR implementation, allowing some processes to remain paper-based if it makes sense to do so.


Baldwin, G. (2009). Straddling two worlds. Health Data Management, 17(8), 17-22.

Brown, H. (2008, April). View from the frontline: Does IT make patient care worse? He@lth Information on the Internet, 62(1), 9.

Edmund, L. C. S., Ramaiah, C. K., & Gulla, S. P. (2009, November). Electronic medical records management systems: an overview. Journal of Library & Information Technology, 29(6), 3-12.

Ford, E. W., Menachemi, N., Peterson, L. T., & Huerta, T. R. (2009). Resistance is futile: But it is slowing the pace of EHR adoption nonetheless. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 16, 274-281. doi:10.1197/jamia.M3042

The HWN Team. (2009, March). Electronic medical records: the pros and cons. Health Worldnet. Retrieved from

McDonald, R. & Roland, M. (2009, March). Pay for performance in primary care in England and California: Comparison of unintended consequences. Annals of Family Medicine, 7(2), 121-127. doi:10.1370/afm.946

Preidt, R. (2009, December 16). Pros and cons of electronic medical records weighed. Business Week. Retrieved from

Terry, N. P. (2009). Personal health records: Directing more costs and risks to consumers? Drexel Law Review, 1(2), 216-260.

Challenges Developing Measurement Tools

Common sense would dictate that a person should want to purchase quality when choosing any product or service, and as health care costs soar in the United States, we also want to ensure that we, as consumers of health care and taxpayers who subsidize health care, are reaping maximum quality for that cost (Buck, Godfrey, & Morgan, 1996). According to McGlynn (1997), the costs for health care in the U.S. have been rising dramatically causing disruption in the manner of which professionals provide care and patients seek it out. It is important to realize the impact that these increasing costs and other changes have on the delivery of care, and, as McGlynn points out, assessment of quality measures are the means of evaluation. Unfortunately, McGlynn and others at the time have found quality measures to be lacking the requisite data needed to make an accurate evaluation of the delivery of health care (Brook, McGlynn, & Shekelle, 2000; Grimshaw & Russell, 1993; McGlynn, 1997).

Over the past decade, many efforts have been made to develop quality measures in order to direct quality improvement; however, these efforts, though effective, have been disjointed and ad hoc at best. McGlynn and Asch (1998) cautions that careful attention to methodology is essential when developing these measures. Accurate methodologies can be reproduced and used to effectively compare efforts between institutions. This leads to a best practices continuum of health care provision.

Recently, researchers have studied teamwork behaviors and their influence on patient and staff-related outcomes, but many of the discussions were institution-centric and may not have applied in the macro environment of U.S. health care. Reader, Flin, Mearns, and Cuthbertson (2009) recently attempted to organize these studies and develop a portable and robust framework which would lead to the development of effective team performance and provide means of further testing and improvement of team dynamics. Their findings suggest that effective teamwork is crucial to providing patient care in critical settings. Reader et al. shows one of the shortcomings of recent quality measure development but also illustrates a manner in which to overcome the limitations.

Developing methods for measuring and evaluating performance in health care have been challenging, overall. Campbell, Braspenning, Hutchinson, and Marshall (2002) identify three component issues to addressing these challenges: “(1) which stakeholder perspective(s) are the indicators intended to reflect; (2) what aspects of health care are being measured; and (3) what evidence is available?” (p. 358). This addresses the qualitative concerns of capturing indicators, while efforts like those of Steyerberg et al. (2010) concern themselves with quantitative abstraction and portability, as well as predictive value. Steyerberg et al. promotes the use of reclassification, discrimination, and calibration when using statistical models to develop valid prediction models and novel performance measures.

Performance indicators that are an accurate reflection of health care provision can lead to development of best practices, lower overall health care costs, and improve the delivery of care which will decrease mortality and morbidity. When considering these performance indicators, especially during development, researchers and administrators need to ensure the validity of the measurements. Approaches to developing quality improvement measures are constantly evolving, and new and novel methods are being designed to standardize the instruments, the application, and the reporting. Quality improvement is still, however, a challenge to many health care providers.


Brook, R. H., McGlynn, E. A., & Shekelle, P. G. (2000). Defining and measuring quality of care: a perspective from US researchers. International Journal of Quality in Health Care, 12(4), 281–95. doi:10.1093/intqhc/12.4.281

Buck, D., Godfrey, C., & Morgan, A. (1996). Performance indicators and health promotion targets (Discussion paper No. 150). York, UK: Centre for Health Economics, University of York. Retrieved from

Campbell, S. M., Braspenning, J., Hutchinson, A., & Marshall, M. (2002). Research methods used in developing and applying quality indicators in primary care. Quality and Safety in Health Care, 11(4), 358–364. doi:10.1136/qhc.11.4.358

Grimshaw, J. M. & Russell, I. T. (1993). Effect of clinical guidelines on medical practice: A systematic review of rigorous evaluations. Lancet, 342(8883), 1317-1322. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(93)92244-N

McGlynn, E. A. (1997). Six challenges in measuring the quality of health care.Health Affairs, 16(3), 7-21. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.16.3.7

McGlynn, E. A. & Asch, S. M. (1998). Developing a clinical performance measure. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(3), Supp. 1, 14–21. doi:10.1016/S0749-3797(97)00032-9

Reader, T. W., Flin, R., Mearns, K., & Cuthbertson, B. H. (2009). Developing a team performance framework for the intensive care unit. Critical Care Medicine, 37(5), 1787-1793. doi:10.1097/CCM.0b013e31819f0451

Steyerberg, E. W., Vickers, A. J., Cook, N. R., Gerds, T., Gonen, M., Obuchowski, N., … Kattane, M. W. (2010). Assessing the performance of prediction models: A framework for traditional and novel measures. Epidemiology, 21(1), 128–138. doi:10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181c30fb2