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Dr. Don Berwick Looks Back and Ahead

Posted by John McDonough  February 15, 2013 02:48 PM

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This past week, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Donald Berwick at a Harvard School of Public Health forum. We talked about his early days in the 1980s when he started the now-world famous Institute for Healthcare Improvement, based in Cambridge. We discussed his movement in the 1990s into health policy that led to the ground-breaking Institute of Medicine reports: To Err Is Human and Crossing the Quality Chasm. He reflected on his 17 months running the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). And he looked ahead to his nascent campaign for Governor of Massachusetts in 2014.

Regular Health Stew readers already know I am a huge fan -- see this post from when he left CMS, Why Berwick Matters.

If you would like to see the full interview, click here. It runs 55 minutes and includes questions from HSPH students. Here's a link to a Harvard Gazette story on the interview. 

On a lighter note, I had the chance to ask him what it is like to get knighted by the Queen of England -- this happened because of IHI's quality improvement consulting with the British National Health Service (NHS). Here's what he told me:

"They called, the Consulate General in Boston. They don't just 'knight' you. They ask you -- here's how it goes. 'Dr. Berwick, if the Queen were to offer you a knighthood, would you accept it?' Because they want to kind of clear the way, and it could be insulting. So I said, 'Yes I would.' So that was the beginning. And for non-British citizens the actual procedure is not done by the Queen, it's done by the Ambassador of the country you're in. So I went to the British embassy in DC and there's a signed parchment thing and a seal, and these guys in uniforms walk out and hand it to you.

"And then you get the 'Knight Manual' -- there's a manual. And I don't remember what's on the first page, but at one place it says: 'Privileges of Knighthood.' One is: If you commit a capital crime, unlike commoners who are always hanged, you can get to choose. You can be hanged or beheaded.

"Actually it was an amazing experience, and I feel so grateful for it and so honored by it. And I know what happened -- IHI got invited to go to the U.K. in the late '90s to try and change care there, and it was a whole team. And it was a little embarrassing because there were about ten people who worked in the U.K. in that decade helping to make the changes."

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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