Donald Berwick, a Harvard University professor and leading advocate for improving health-care quality and efficiency, has been named by President Obama as his choice to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS.) Berwick is well-known in Quality circles for aggressively advocating quality improvement in healthcare. Berwick, who specializes in health-care policy and pediatrics, has never led such a large organization. As head of the Boston-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, however, he is known for persuading doctors and hospitals to adopt innovative methods for reducing medical errors. Dr. Berwick is author of numerous articles and books, including the classic work demonstrating the application of quality technology to health care issues, Curing Health Care. He is one of the nation’s leading authorities on health care quality and improvement. He is also Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Health Care Policy at the Harvard Medical School, and Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health.

If confirmed by the Senate, Berwick will face a number of daunting challenges. One is the sheer size of the CMS, which is about to become even larger. The agency, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, must oversee a massive expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor, with an estimated 16 million people expected to join its rolls by 2020. At the same time, Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly, will need to reduce payments to health-care providers by about $400 billion over 10 years without impacting the quality of coverage. Lean Six Sigma and Quality technologies provide an approach for doing this while minimizing the impact on value-added health care processes, operations and activities. Berwick’s familiarity with these areas provides reason for optimism or, at least, hope. This blog has frequently posted examples of poor quality in health care. Let’s hope that Dr. Berwick will have a positive impact at CMS.

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