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Posted September 23, 2011

Benchmarking 2.0: Taking It to the Next Level

By Quint Studer

It has never been more important that healthcare organizations get better and better—and that we do it faster and faster.

This intense emphasis on quality means benchmarking has become a hot topic. Our industry talks a lot about benchmarking and it generates a certain amount of debate.

Some leaders argue there's no accurate way to compare metrics inside our industry. They may not even try because they think what someone else is doing is irrelevant because of the "But we're different" mindset. (I like to call this terminal uniqueness.)

Others believe it's important to benchmark because it gives them a goalpost to aim for and a sense of motivation to fuel their efforts. (If that organization can do it, we can too!) So they'll shoot for the goal, but won't dig deep enough to identify the specific behaviors and tactics that truly create these great results. What's more, they do it without first establishing the kind of an aligned, accountable system that allows them to maintain those results long term.

Yes, the numbers do matter because they help us locate organizations that are doing well. But they're not the important part. Finding out how they got to be the best and learning from them—that's the important part. In my mind, it's the heart and soul of benchmarking.

I have always been a believer in the power of imitation. It's a lot smarter and much, much faster to take what's already proven to work and adapt it for your situation than to try to carve out a new path.

And we're fortunate to work in an industry where people love to share. We all want a world where people can go to any hospital and receive great care. This work is a calling, and I find that 99.9 percent of healthcare professionals will gladly share what they know in order to better serve patients.

So how do you take benchmarking to the next level? Obviously, you identify an area that needs improvement and find an organization that's doing well in that area. Then, you implement the tools and tactics it's using to achieve its results. But this part is really just the beginning.

Consistency and frequency are the true engines of improvement. If you know a behavior will make a difference, you'll want to practice it every day with every patient—just as you provide medication consistently and at a certain frequency. When you're sure this is happening, and that people aren't taking a hit-or-miss approach, you should see the numbers begin to climb. It won't happen overnight—but it will happen.

If the numbers aren't budging, you may want to ask yourself if leaders have the skills they need to inspire and motivate their team to commit to the best practices. You might also want to look at how you're holding them accountable for results. Are their performance goals weighted to get them focused on the right things and to drive urgency?

To me, one of the gifts of benchmarking is how it forces us to rethink fundamental parts of our organizations. It can reveal our hidden weaknesses in our foundations and it can also shine a spotlight on our strengths. (Sometimes, as we're working to implement a new behavior, we discover other "best practices" certain leaders have mastered that we can harvest and apply to the rest of the organization.)

It's true that value-based purchasing is creating more urgency around improving quality results. But what really drives people is the realization that by adopting and hardwiring a particular best practice they're not just moving numbers up. They're saving lives. When we can remember that, and communicate it regularly to those we work with, we tap into their passion and sense of purpose—and once we do that, we can do anything.

Studer Group's What's Right in Health Care® conference is an opportunity to learn from the top organizations in the nation. The intensive sessions zero in on "how-tos" that impact time-sensitive subjects like HCAHPS, Core Measures, physician engagement, readmissions, ED effectiveness, and more. Attendees will walk away with tools and step-by-step tactics they can take back to their own organizations and begin implementing right away to achieve and sustain clinical, service, and operational excellence. Visit www.whatsrightinhealthcare.com to learn more.

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