Intended for healthcare professionals

Book Book

Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 17 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1192
  1. Alastair Baker, consultant paediatric hepatologist
  1. King's College Hospital, London

    Institute of Medicine

    National Academy Press, $44.95, pp 364

    ISBN 0 309 07280 8

    See for ordering details

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    Even with catchy titles, committee reports are unlikely bestsellers. This one has the background and intention to be different. The committee members, who were appointed by the US National Academy of Science for their creative thinking and knowledge of medicine, healthcare, and commerce, provide excellently researched evidence for the failure of the US healthcare system. They justify radical change and establish six aims and 10 simple rules for a completely different healthcare system. They call for a common purpose and as few simple rules as possible, based on a complex adaptive system model, and they contrast this with the current bureaucratic attempts to regulate problems created by the system itself.

    The report explores the development of information technology, arguing that human brains should be reserved for judgments that are too complex for computers rather than for feats of memory. Brief case descriptions develop a powerful vision of what it might be like to experience this new healthcare. Although the authors don't go into the detail that would in reality have to be developed between those providing and receiving care, the vision is strong and convincing.

    There are two major obstacles to the vision, and the book addresses both of these. The first is cost; the second—professionals' attachment to their current culture, roles, and professional identity—is probably harder to overcome. The authors argue that the present system is so wasteful that a new system could not fail to be more economic. Costs—including compensation for medical errors—are out of control. On all counts, the system is failing and there is no choice but change.

    This report will influence healthcare policy makers throughout the world for at least the next 10 years. The NHS could be a more receptive environment for the vision than the US healthcare system. Even the section on funding applies to the United Kingdom. Already, government pronouncements on the NHS, on change, and on quality, and much of the work of healthcare think tank the King's Fund reflect the vision outlined in this report.

    But will this be a bestseller? It deserves to be. It is relatively easy to read and is mandatory for anyone who has any interest in the future of healthcare or who wishes to understand the direction of current developments for quality, such as clinical governance. It also serves as a handbook for personal development and reflective practice. I suggest that the willingness of the workforce to embrace its ideas is crucial to the survival of the UK health service, so sales of this book could be a prognostic indicator for the NHS. Buy it and read it.

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