Speaking to a full house at the Harvard Ed Portal, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Professor Donald Goldmann challenged his audience to be curious about how they execute everyday tasks, to test potential ways of improving communication and action, and ultimately better their daily lives through “improvement science,” or the science of improvement.
Goldmann began by listing the advances of modern medicine, including the near-elimination of polio, smallpox, and guinea worm. “A diagnosis of HIV/Aids now means living with a chronic disease, not a death sentence,” he said. “I never thought I’d live to see hepatitis C cured within 12 weeks. But all these things are happening because of the great advances in medicine and science.”
The science of improvement largely focuses on health care improvement, explained Goldmann. Hospitals and institutions examine their methods and practices, assess their effectiveness, and then develop plans to improve the quality of care. Determining the best plan, and employing it to maximum effectiveness, has real-life implications ranging from decreased mortality to reduced costs to maximized quality of patient care.
Employing those same steps in our daily lives can have a profound impact on our habits, effectiveness, and quality of life, Goldmann said. A key part of the process is understanding systems and how we use them, from how we make our morning coffee to how we interact with loved ones at the end of the day.
“The process is very simple,” said Goldmann. “Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. ‘What is my specific aim?’ Ask yourself, ‘How much, for whom, and by when?’”
That specificity, Goldmann said, creates a clear infrastructure on which to test different approaches and measure the success of each. “There are lots of good ideas in the world. How will you predict what’s going to happen, and how will you test it?”
If the specifics are not first understood, he said, success cannot be measured. “You need to develop a theory, test it, and prove it.”
Rob Lue, faculty director of HarvardX and the Ed Portal and a professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology, said the event combined the efforts of HarvardX and the Ed Portal to share Harvard’s knowledge and expertise with a local and global audience.
“Events like this provide an opportunity for all members of the community to come together and share insights with remarkable educators and leaders like Dr. Goldmann,” he said.
“I enjoyed the lecture. The space was welcoming, open and refreshing. Dr. Goldman’s ability to connect with the audience was authentic, meaningful, and inspiring,” said attendee Judi Hahn.
Presented as part of the Ed Portal’s faculty lecture series, Goldmann’s lecture drew on his HarvardX course, “Practical Improvement Science in Health Care: A Roadmap for Getting Results.” The course was developed through a collaboration with HarvardX and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.