Dr. Atul Gawande: Should Hospitals Follow the Cheesecake Factory Model?

As hospitals and health systems grapple with the challenges of healthcare reform — controlling costs and quality while remaining innovative — Atul Gawande, MD, believes they should look toward a popular restaurant chain that successfully handled similar challenges: The Cheesecake Factory.

Dr. Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, wrote in The New Yorker that The Cheesecake Factory has already accomplished what healthcare systems are trying to do — providing quick, efficient, quality service and delivering great results all while keeping costs down and rolling out original menu items.

Hospital chains, such as Boston-based Steward Health Care, Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America and others, leave many patients with mixed feelings. Some are afraid the consolidating healthcare market, which Dr. Gawande called "Big Medicine," could lead to higher prices and monopolistic tendencies. Others believe the mass-scale changes could lead to the better care and lower costs that everyone ultimately wants from the healthcare system.

However, Dr. Gawande said the chain model will give hospitals, and the entire system, the best shot at improving, and success can be reached best through a balance of public and governmental oversight and expanding systems.

"We've let healthcare systems provide us with the equivalent of greasy-spoon fare at four-star prices, and the results have been ruinous," Dr. Gawande wrote. "The Cheesecake Factory model represents our best prospect for change. Some will see danger in this. Many will see hope. And that's probably the way it should be."

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