Primary care case study: Quality at every step

Before he even walks into an exam room to greet a patient, Kimberly, Wis., family physician Montgomery “Monk” J. Elmer, MD, already has a good indication of how the patient’s health is holding up. On a rainy day this spring, he had good news for Jim DeBruin, a jovial 79-year-old patient with diabetes visiting for a routine follow-up visit.

“So you’re still passing,” Dr. Elmer said as a smile spread across his face. In his hand, he held a printout of DeBruin’s laboratory test results, showing his glycated hemoglobin reading of 7.6%.

“As long as we’re under eight, you’re OK,” Dr. Elmer added. DeBruin’s blood had been drawn only minutes earlier by a medical assistant at the clinic, which is part of the ThedaCare health system in Appleton, Wis. The sample was analyzed at a lab on site at the clinic.

This just-in-time approach to lab testing and patient care is a principal example of how physician leaders at ThedaCare have earned an outsized reputation within health care for their widespread implementation of the so-called lean-management methods that helped Toyota Motor Corp. become the world’s biggest automaker. Although taking a manufacturing approach to medicine is most commonly associated with hospitals, ThedaCare is implementing the idea aggressively in primary care.

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