Systems Thinking: Taking a Holistic View — Gabrielle Finley-Hazle
“Systems thinking” is a popular term in business. But what does it really mean, and what does it mean for health care?
We posed this question to Gabrielle Finley-Hazle, a pioneering systems thinker. She is president and CEO of a flagship market for one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems and has devoted her career to improving the health of patients through systems of care.
Gabrielle, your career progressed rapidly to prepare you for your current role, impacting large health care networks that span across multiple states. One underpinning of your work is understanding systems thinking. What is systems thinking from your perspective, and how does it apply to the health care industry?
“Systems thinking means understanding the interrelated parts of a complex whole: how they interact, how they change, and how they can be integrated and aligned for the best outcomes.
“In health care, those parts are many: the care team of health professionals, the system of provider organizations that deliver care, the wider system of regulatory and market forces, and most importantly, the patient and the patient’s family and support group.
“At my organization, CommonSpirit Health, systems thinking enables us to bring the expertise of a national health system to neighborhoods across the country. Our whole is much greater than the sum of our parts.
How can systems thinking transform the industry?
“Systems thinking can transform organizations through a patient-centric approach. The patient receives well-coordinated care across the care continuum because leaders are thinking in systems, not in silos. For example, for a stroke patient, the best care goes beyond hospital treatment. It begins at the first touch point — fire rescue and emergency medical services — and continues through hospital discharge, rehabilitation, and follow-up.
“A focus for the industry in systems thinking is creating high-reliability organizations, or HROs. Other high-risk industries, such as the military and commercial aviation, have adopted high-reliability strategies, and health care is following their lead. The term describes an organizational culture that strives to achieve error-free performance and safety in every procedure and eliminate unwarranted variation in care delivery — and at the same time, improve clinical results and reduce costs.
“Systems thinking is also vital in assessing different groups’ opportunities for health improvement, or ‘health equity.’ Not every group has the same access to health care, nutrition, or clean air, for example. The gaps between those with the most access and the least access determine the level of health equity across communities. A systems-thinking approach can help us understand these gaps, be better at solving problems, and address the unique health challenges within each community.”
Thank you, Gabrielle, for sharing your perspective.
Gabrielle Finley-Hazle is the President and chief executive officer of Dignity Health Arizona Central and West Valley Market, a flagship market of CommonSpirit Health, the largest nonprofit health system in the United States. With 20 years of experience in the health care sector, she has made notable achievements in creating mission-driven, high-performance cultures to consistently hit stretch goals; manage through crises; and develop focused growth strategies with measurable outcomes.
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