Plenary: Seeking Perfection: Reflections on the Journey
By Violet Chen
In the morning of Sunday, October 20, INFORMS 2019 President Dr. Ramayya Krishnan opened the Welcome & Plenary session by welcoming everyone to Seattle. Dr. Krishnan shared the exciting news that INFORMS 2019 has a record breaking participation count of 7,200 registrants. He thanked the city of Seattle for hosting the OR/MS community, and recognized that the continuous growth and expansion of the Annual Meeting signals the constant progress of our field. Dr. Krishnan then passed the stage to Dr. Archis Ghate, General Chair of INFORMS 2019, to introduce this year’s organizing committee and sponsors. After recognizing and thanking the volunteers and organizations which make the conference possible, Dr. Ghate introduced the plenary speaker, Dr. Gary S. Kaplan.
Dr. Kaplan is the Chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason Health System, a Seattle-based medical service provider known for incorporating system engineering with healthcare operations. In his talk, Dr. Kaplan reflected on the lean journey that Virginia Mason (VM) embarked on back in 2000 to be “the quality leader and transform health care.” He first expressed appreciation for what the OR/MS community has accomplished, and then started sharing the journey from where it all started.
In 2000, six months into becoming the CEO of VM, Dr. Kaplan announced at a staff meeting, “We change or we die.” He had such passionate appeals for change because back then, although the status quo of the healthcare industry was so far away from the ideal, the motive for actual change was lacking. As a board-certified doctor and top tier physician himself, Dr. Kaplan is familiar with the system; hence understanding in the change-averse healthcare industry, impactful large-scale changes require equipping the leadership with a new mindset.
After committing to change, the first step of VM was to define a new strategic plan, which should be fundamentally based on a proper production system, and work to serve patients and attain VM’s visions. Dr. Kaplan highlighted that the core of bringing desirable changes was to resolve the “clash of promise and imperatives,” which VM achieved in two steps: aligning expectations among shareholders by designing new compacts, then defining the Virginia Mason Quality Equation. To transform their visions into actions, VM learned from the Toyota management philosophy and started to utilize system engineering. They adopted lean principles to enhance the quality of Virginia Mason service from multiple important perspectives, including transparency, accountability, and patient experience. In the end, Dr. Kaplan emphasized the importance of building respect for people and garnering support from governance for successful changes. Finally, he concluded the talk by reminding everyone a journey to change is a learning journey.