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I never want to be a government-employed physician. Here’s why.

Every health care system in the world is facing its fair share of challenges. Aging populations, the exponential increase in chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, expensive new treatments—all at a time when most countries desperately need to curtail rising health care costs to save their economies. At the two extremes, we have fully public-funded (socialized) medicine versus entirely free-market (private) health care delivery systems. I’ve written previously about my own experiences working in a number of different environments including the U.K., Australia, and U.S. — three countries with vastly different systems, and how the ideal probably resides somewhere in-between the two extremes. I don’t think that a fully centralized system such as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is something that any country should ever be aspiring to. As fair as it sounds — completely free health care at the point use — patients, unfortunately, don’t always get the choice or service that they need in a top-heavy bureaucratic setup.

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Kaiser’s New Medical School Focusing On Physician Diversity

Though California is among the most diverse places in the nation, its doctors, unfortunately, don’t reflect the demographics of the state. Overall, physicians here are older, whiter and more likely to be male than their patients, and that’s just one of several ways in which California’s health care lags the demands of the market, not to mention patients’ needs.

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First PhD Program in U.S. Trains Scientists to See, Fix Kinks in Healthcare System

New program aims to prevent 440,000 yearly deaths due to medical errors.
Why do physicians accidentally jab themselves in the hand with an EpiPen (epinephrine injection) when they are trying to give another person an injection while holding their breath?

How does directing a “Martian” to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich improve healthcare communications?

The answers are part of the curriculum for the first PhD in healthcare quality and patient safety program in the country — at Northwestern Medicine — which aims to prevent the annual 440,000 deaths from medical errors in the United States.

“You can’t stress enough how crazy it is that the third–leading cause of death is medical errors,” said Donna Woods, PhD, director of the graduate programs in healthcare quality and patient safety at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “How will this ever get fixed if we don’t train a work force to do it? We need an army of experts who need to know how to address this. The medical field does not have the skills to do it.”

The first PhD student in healthcare quality and patient safety graduated this fall with others in the pipeline.

Senior and mid–career clinicians (physicians, nurses, pharmacists) and healthcare professionals are trained by engineers, cognitive psychologists and risk assessment and change management specialists, who bring a critical fresh eye to the medical world. The “outsiders” teach students how to spot the vulnerable kinks in the system and figure out how to fix them. The students learn to do research, so they can design fixes based on scientific evidence.

To build a national healthcare safety army, Northwestern has provided a template from its master’s level healthcare quality and patient safety program – also the first in the country — to other medical schools to launch their own master’s programs. These include George Washington University, Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Population Health, University of Illinois and Cornell University.

The PhD students learn about physical and cognitive ergonomics, which is the study of predictable errors your mind can make and how to consider these in healthcare design to make the delivery of healthcare more reliable.

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