What Can Healthcare Learn From Other Industries’ Best Practices?

Many industries have suffered the pain of transformational change. In doing so, they provide insight into how to effectively overcome a variety of obstacles. If the healthcare industry can leverage the experience of others’ past failures, their own transformation will be accelerated. 

In recent years, stories about healthcare often portray the industry in a negative light, including the following characterizations:

  • Broken: “Ten years ago, the US healthcare system was declared ‘broken’, and it has not improved.”
  • Expensive: “More than one-sixth of the U.S. economy is devoted to healthcare spending and that percentage continues to rise every year. Regrettably, our system is not delivering value commensurate with the estimated $2.7 trillion spent annually on health care.”
  • Over-regulated: “The array of regulations that govern healthcare can seem overwhelming to people who work in the industry. Almost every aspect of the field is overseen by one regulatory body or another, and sometimes by several.”

This begs the question, what is the underlying cause for these depictions?


The negative stories all address issues that are in part occurring due to seismic shifts in the industry. Examples include the Affordable Care Act, technological advances in the delivery and coordination of care, the increasing demand from patients for greater value, and the burden on patients to understand and manage their own needs.

Not everything is bad news; many stories show the promise of our advancing healthcare system.

  • Availability of specialists: “We are witnessing a resurgence of interest in new specialty designations.”
  • Effort to research rare diseases: “In response to the Rare Diseases Act of 2002, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network I (RDCRN I) to address the unique challenges of research on rare diseases.”
  • Emphasis placed on patient autonomy: “Personal autonomy is widely valued. Recognition of its vulnerability in healthcare contexts led to the inclusion of respect for autonomy as a key concern in biomedical ethics.”

However, each of these positive examples has a negative interpretation.

For example, higher payment of specialty practitioners has contributed to a shortage of primary care doctors. Research efforts on most drugs are motivated by profit, not advancing treatment or reducing suffering. Increased patient autonomy has arrived at the same time personal decision-making has become more difficult than ever. With options and information increasing, a basic level of knowledge is needed to understand our complex system, which many patients do not possess.

What has managed to earn other industries positive coverage?

  • Apple’s Strategy: “There is nothing so tantalizing as looking at the Apple brand marketing strategy and thinking how to learn from them!”
  • Space X’s People: “…Elon Musk succeeded in convincing some of those who have regarded him as a con man dependent on government largesse that he may yet become what one of his admirers calls the ‘Steve Jobs of heavy industry’, if not the ‘Henry Ford of rockets.’”
  • Motorola’s Process: “Our employees, suppliers and customers quickly discovered this methodology worked and wanted to use it to improve performance…The Six Sigma methodology gained a strong following and became widely adopted across numerous industries.”
  • Google’s Technology: “Using the idea of relevancy, they built Google in a way that – in comparison to other search engines at the time – was simply better at connecting users with more pertinent results…To put it simply, Google had a superior product.”

So what?

In the following weeks, we will look into the best practices, innovations and contributions of other industries, and highlight how healthcare may leverage them.

Examples include:

  • The physicality of construction work led to changes and regulations across the industry because it posed immediate and long-term risk of injury to employees. Nursing is also a physically demanding profession and it has been well documented that nurses are often injured on the job. What can healthcare learn from construction to reduce harm to the nursing workforce?
  • The food service industry’s recent business model change to fast casual dining demonstrates how effective new delivery models can be at rebalancing quality and cost at the customer’s advantage. Healthcare has spent significant time suggesting new delivery models, but there has yet to be a simple and repeatable “Chipotle” model. What can healthcare learn from the food service industry in order to improve quality while making the needed tradeoffs in a value additive way for customers?
  • Production companies move large objects and many individuals in putting on a show or shooting a film. These efforts require teams of individuals with varied skillsets to accomplish tasks under tight budgets and deadlines. Advanced surgical procedures are a production of their own, but what happens to coordination of care outside of surgery? How can a multi-dimensional caregiver team coordinate care outside of emergency medicine?

Ultimately, we hope to gain insight from these (and other) examples to help us answer a more difficult question…what broad positive impacts (in Strategy, People, Process, and Technology) can we anticipate healthcare  will have on industry in general going forward, eventually replacing the narratives we hear today?

Stay tuned for Part II in our series focused on what healthcare can learn from the fast food industry’s recent business model changes.

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Email: marketing@westmonroepartners.com
222 W. Adams
Chicago, IL 60606
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