Improvement science: engineering 42 – ethics 0

In my last post I considered a “thought paper” entitled “The habits of an improver” and welcomed that critical thinking was considered a necessary habit.

The word “engineer” or “engineering” is to be found on 42 separate occasions in this Health Foundation thought paper.

The word “ethics” does not appear at all. Despite the fact that the introduction begins with this quote:

That ethics do not seem to be considered amongst the “habits” necessary for “improvement science” is concerning.

The last time I looked, I found this result using the Healthcare Improvement Scotland search facility:

The former Chief Executive for the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland used to introduce me as “Bayesian Peter”. Bayesian is the name given to interpretations of probability and returns to Reverend Thomas Bayes original considerations of complexity.

Healthcare, like life, is complex. We are human and live in an ever changing world.

This is not all so simply “engineered”.

Ethics is integral to science.  I do not deserve the epithet “Bayesian Peter” – for whilst I am interested in ethics this does not mean that I am more ethical than you the reader.

However, I want to say as clearly as I can, and yes with passion, that without ethical considerations “improvement science” should linger in quotes.

If NHS Scotland has been genetically-modified with QI

It is most welcome to hear from Philippa Whitford about positive outcomes of NHS Scotland’s collaborative approach to quality improvement and the learning that this might provide for the rest of the UK. I share Philippa Whitford’s concerns about the potential consequences of competitive systems such as occurs more in NHS England with providers, commissioners and contracts and the inevitable fragmentation that this brings. The integrated approach taken in Scotland along with the engagement of patients and frontline practitioners is indeed something to be most positive about.

However, NHS Scotland’s approach to Quality Improvement is based on what is known as “improvement science”. This is a relatively new approach to science introduced from the USA and based on methodologies from the engineering and airline industries. The Health Foundation, in its ‘Evidence Scan’ found a “real paucity of evidence about the field of improvement science” . The Health Foundation found papers on the conceptual nature of Improvement Science but concluded that: “none of these could be said to be seminal pieces of research acting as building blocks for the field as a whole”.

As far back as 2007 Brent et al identified that “ethical issues arise in QI because attempts to improve quality may inadvertently cause harm, waste scarce resources, or affect some patients unfairly.”

Scotland has two key National Improvement initiatives for older people in acute hospital care. One is for Delirium and the other is for Frailty.

The QI initiative on Delirium was reliant upon “screening tools” that were effectively made mandatory for all those aged 65 years and over admitted to hospital. Healthcare Improvement Scotland measured the “compliance” with the use of these “screening tools” across Scotland. On the wards I was finding that these tools were not infrequently being interpreted as diagnostic and that older people were sometimes considered as lacking in “capacity” on this basis. I was also concerned that this approach could lead to greater use of antipsychotic medication.

The QI initiative on Frailty is currently being implemented across NHS Scotland. This is despite the fact that there is no internationally accepted clinical definition for Frailty. More “screening tools” have been developed by Healthcare Improvement Scotland and “Frailty Hubs” are now being set up in most NHS Boards. It may be worth noting recent high-level disagreement amongst British Geriatricians about the validity of the “Frailty Industry” as one senior Geriatrician described it.

The experience of these national initiatives perhaps highlights the limitations of approaches which work best in mechanical settings. The same success cannot be guaranteed when applied to more complex presentations such as delirium and frailty.

It has recently been stated that “ethical approval is less burdensome” for QI. However I suggest that we must be wary of taking shortcuts that may result in potential harm as well as potential good. This is why ethics and philosophy have an established role in science.

Another risk is that if science is pre-determined as “improvement”, this may limit the acceptance of critical thinking.

Philippa Whitford concludes that in NHS Scotland “Quality improvement has made its way into the DNA of frontline staff”. I share the view that Quality Improvement has much to offer. However, if NHS Scotland has been genetically-modified with QI let us hope that the wider considerations necessary for science are included in the base-code.

Dr Peter J Gordon
Psychiatrist for Older Adults
NHS Scotland

 

We are far more than our labels

“National Improvement” work for older people has focused on Frailty and in NHS Scotland we are reminded by healthcare Improvement Scotland to “THINK frailty”

This short film is based on “thought for the day” by Anna Magnusson, BBC Radio Scotland, Friday 5th August 2017.

Music is “Seeing the future” by Dexter Britain (under common license)

We are far more than our labels from omphalos.

Improvement goggles

What follows are three slides taken from a talk given by Dr Brian Robson, Executive Clinical Director, Healthcare Improvement Scotland and IHI Fellow, given at the Edinburgh International Conference of Medicine in September 2016:



 

I most certainly agree that culture is important. But what kind of culture? Is it healthy just to follow one? In this case the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, Boston.

The “Improvement Goggles”, it would seem, come as part of the “toolkit”?

As a doctor who is passionate about improving care it matters to me that I follow science that does not risk being pre-determined.

It is important that there is philosophical depth to the approaches that we take to healthcare.

I understand the overwhelmingly good intentions of all those involved in “improvement science”, however I would suggest that we should carefully consider the potential benefits and harms of a most determined “one organisation” approach that starts and ends with reductionist and mechanical algorithms.

 

 

‘How to Improve’

The Nuffield Trust has recently published “Learning from Scotland’s NHS”. This report was based on a select group of “30 senior leaders and experts from Scottish health and care”.

One of the primary “learning points” of this report was that Scotland should be considered as “the model of how to improve healthcare across the British isles”. What is not made clear in this report is that the improvement methodology that Scotland has embraced was introduced from the USA not by “30 senior leaders” but by three:

  1. Derek Feeley, President of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and former Director General for NHS Scotland
  2. Professor Jason Leitch, who is a Dental practitioner, IHI Fellow and National Clinical Director of Healthcare Quality and Strategy (Scottish Government)
  3. Dr Brian RobsonIHI Fellow and Clinical Director of Healthcare Improvement Scotland

The “30 senior leaders and experts” would seem to be “marking their own homework”.

A few personal thoughts:

I am a passionate about science but am of the view that passion should not pre-determine scientific method and process.

I have previously argued why it is unhelpful to pre-determine science as “improvement”.

I fully welcome a coordinated approach to improving healthcare.

I worry about the inherent reductionism that is the basis of IHI “improvement science”

IHI promotes learning to healthcare based upon the experience of Industry (mechanical engineering). This may work well for less complex interactional processes, such as Hospital Acquired Infection. However healthcare is rarely linear (it is more often Bayesian) and reductionist interventions (however well intentioned) can cause harm.

I have found that Healthcare Improvement Scotland (IHI) does not routinely include ethical considerations in its approach to “improvement science”.

In summary:

I would suggest that it would have been more accurate (evidence based) for the Nuffield Trust report to have been titled: “Learning from the USA”.

I welcome all learning and from all reaches of the globe. I also seek improvement. But as a philosopher and NHS doctor (of 25 years) I worry about any one-system approach.

Science needs to consider culture, ethics, narrative, and the experience of being.

“How to Improve” needs to consider the voices of people and place. It should not just be the voices of the “senior leaders and experts from Scottish health and care”.

 

 

 

 

The contributions of those “retired” often prove invaluable

The contributions of those “retired” often prove invaluable

BMJ submission by Dr Peter J Gordon.

2nd September 2015

Yesterday I was at a consultation event held by Healthcare Improvement Scotland which sought wider views on a proposed national approach to “Scrutiny” of health and social care in Scotland. At the meeting I met a number of individuals who had been designated “retired” on their name badge. I was not surprised to find that during the course of the consultation event, the contributions of those “retired” proved to be invaluable.

Returning home on the train I thought about this a little more. Names like J K Anand, L Sam Lewis and Susanne Stevens, all regular submitters to the BMJ rapid responses came into my mind. All describe themselves as “retired” and one happily calls himself “an old man”. The contributions by retired folk have always struck me as having a different quality to those by people who are still employees of today’s NHS. In “retirement” there may be a greater freedom to ask questions of prevailing approaches. Our older generation also has great experience which should be considered as “evidence” in itself.

Yet in my job as a doctor for older adults, I see the world around me as seeming to do its best to reduce our elders. The language used in discussing our elders commonly denotes some sort of loss. For example the “guru” of Healthcare Improvement Don Berwick talks about the “Silver Tsunami”. Other healthcare leaders talk of “epidemics” and “challenges”, implying that our elders are a burden to younger generations. To address these “challenges” the healthcare improvers, it seems to me, are devising shortcuts. Today these are often termed “tools” and may be part of “toolkits”.  I have even heard healthcare improvers discussing the need to “invent” a “tool” for patient centredness. I think our elders, or those “retired”, might consider this to be particularly ridiculous.

So I would like to say three cheers for the “retired” folk. To discourse they bring wisdom, to the prevailing methodologies they are more willing to ask critical questions, and when it comes to cutting through to what matters, being true to oneself, our elders are superior to many, if not most, policy makers.

       The following are quotes by Raymond Tallis:

Raymond-Tallis-(30)

Raymond-Tallis-(32)

Unpacking the miracle of everyday life (parcel 2) from omphalos on Vimeo.