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Healthcare business model? Try UCLA Health System

Posted by: Brian O'Connell on May 26, 2011 Source: Kauffman Foundation

Healthcare entrepreneurs would do worse than to model their businesses after the UCLA Health System.

That’s the sentiment behind a new book by business guru and best-selling author Joseph Michelli. Citing UCLA’s “operational excellence,” Michelli sets up his premise in fairly glowing terms:

“Imagine running a business that requires the innovation of Apple, the commitment to safety of NASA and the customer service of a five-star luxury hotel. Also imagine that your product holds life and death in the balance, that you must be a world-class educator and that your research is shaping the very future of your field. Now imagine that you must achieve all this in the competitive and ever-changing world of health care.”

That, Michelli says, describes the UCLA Health System, a system he describes in full in "Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World-Class Customer Experience From UCLA Health System" (McGraw-Hill, 2011).

So why UCLA Health? Michelli says that other healthcare managers can learn a lot from the organization’s “leadership principles.”

He interviews key players at UCLA, including UCLA Hospital CEO Dr. David T. Feinberg, who frames the center’s operational success on a “floor-by-floor” basis.

"Our stories are unbelievable," says Feinberg. "On one floor, we're doing brain surgery that is performed in only a few places in the country, and on the floor below, in a patient's room, we're providing Ritz Carlton–style service. That is who we are. The book describes both floors."

Michelli has taken a good, close look at successful businesses before. He wrote “The Starbucks Experience” in 2006, and “The New Gold Standard” (about the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chain) in 2008.

He takes the same microscope to the UCLA Health System, spending a year inside the healthcare organization. What he finds should be highly useful to healthcare entrepreneurs.

He breaks UCLA’s track record of success down into five categories, tapping Feinberg’s knowledge of the inner workings at UCLA to flesh the themes out:

  1. Commit to care
  2. Leave no room for error
  3. Make the “best” better
  4. Create the future
  5. Service serves us

Besides Feinberg, Michelli also talks to dozens of patients and employees to further flesh out the principles behind the UCLA health brand. He cites the hospital’s policy of having employees always knock on doors first before entering a room. (The aim is to treat patients like “valued customers,” just as the Ritz-Carlton does in the hotel industry.) 

He quotes a sign language interpreter at the hospital, who took the customer service to the next level when she tracked a family down in the hospital parking lot. The employee, Clara Heurta, wanted to let the family know that their father would receive a new heart that night.

Another quote from the book: "Talent selection and retention is the single most pressing issue for business success over the foreseeable future."

We’re not in the book review business, nor do we have a financial stake in this one.

But if you lead a small healthcare company and you want to rip a page or two out of a big, successful company’s script, Michelli’s book is worth a look.

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