“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”
- Paul Batalden, MD
This is one of NICHQ’s guiding principles, a simple yet complex idea that undesirable outcomes are the product of poorly designed systems. If we want a different result, we need to improve the system.
A system is a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. Systems thinking is the perspective that enables us to see how individual components within the system influence each another. If we don’t improve at the system level, we run the risk of making changes that ultimately do not result in an improvement – because a positive change in one area of the system may lead to a negative change in another part.
Most people have difficulty thinking at the systems level because they cannot “see” the system. It’s like the fish that fails to notice the water in which it swims. But systems, big and small, are a constant force in our daily work processes and interactions.
A deep understanding of the system and how it functions can enable smarter decisions about high leverage changes to improve system performance. Only by thinking at a systems level can we fully understand the root cause of an undesirable outcome, determine how the parts relate to the whole, and effectively address the problem through disciplined redesign.
The ability to think at a systems level is a key area of NICHQ’s expertise.
A child’s health is the product of many complex and interdependent systems. Understanding how these systems and the elements within these systems interact to create both positive and undesirable outcomes is the key to improving quality.
Read a blog post on “Viewing Health as a System” by NICHQ CEO Charlie Homer, MD, MPH.