Should Hospitals Be More Like The Cheesecake Factory?

At The Cheesecake Factory, the typical entrée is under $15. Three hundred and eight dinner items are perfectly prepared, from wasabi-crusted ahi tuna to buffalo wings. Waiters are speedy and friendly, and make you feel like you’re having a special night out. Now, in his latest think-piece for the New Yorker, surgeon Atul Gawande compares the virtues of how that restaurant and other chains are run to how the U.S. health care system works.

“Big medicine” tends to bring up negative ideas around cost cutting, efficiency, and less-humanized care, all at the expense of quality patient service. But Gawande—himself anxious about growing mega-hospitals—can’t help but marvel at how the restaurants are getting it right.

A Cheesecake Factory regional manager told Gawande that if he were managing a hospital clinic, “I’d study what the best people are doing, figure out how to standardize it, and then bring it to everyone to execute.” Some hospitals are following suit. At Gawande’s own workplace in Boston, one orthopedic surgeon—in a role Gawande compares to a kitchen manager overseeing quality control—is revolutionizing knee-replacement surgeries by formulating a single, best way to perform the procedure. The strategy is working: Knee-implant costs have been cut in half, and more importantly, patient outcomes (measured by such factors as length of hospital stay, narcotic medicine needed, distance walked after surgery, and others) have vastly improved.

As a nation we often agree that healthcare is broken, but we can’t reach consensus on how to fix it. The innovations shared in this story could help change the game.

Related: Reader’s Digest Special Report: Why a Hospital Bill Costs What It Costs »

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