During the Baldrige Program’s 34th Quest for Excellence® Conference next week, Donald (“Don”) Berwick will draw on his leading expertise and experience in U.S. health care to discuss health care quality and improvement in a keynote address on the morning of April 5.
As U.S. health care leaders and others know, Berwick is president emeritus and a senior fellow with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, as well as the former administrator of the nation’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
In a recent exchange with me about his upcoming Baldrige conference presentation—tentatively titled “It’s Quality—Seriously!”—he conveyed a positive view of the potential role in U.S. health care improvement of the Baldrige Excellence Framework®/Health Care Criteria for Performance Excellence®), saying,
"The Baldrige framework and Criteria provide … health care leaders … a chance to translate sound, scientific management approaches into organizational structures and actions. They compose the roadmap that leaders need. … [Baldrige] has a sterling track record, and it would be hard to find a better place to start.”
Following is the full interview.
Would you please briefly describe your key objectives for your keynote at the Baldrige Program’s Quest for Excellence Conference next week?
Health care [in the United States] has benefited a great deal from its involvement in the Baldrige process, but penetration of quality as a strategy remains incomplete and spotty in most of health care. Indeed, only a small minority of hospitals, physician practices, and other medical organizations have embraced the theory that underlies Baldrige. The reasons for this are complex, and I hope to explore and explain some of them in my presentation.
Would you please share an example related to achieving excellence in U.S. health care today?
We have seen the extension of some improvement to a national level—such as in the prevention of certain kinds of hospital-acquired infections. This spread of good practice[s] has saved thousands of lives, and it is important to learn from that success how improvement can become organic.
What are a few points of guidance or insights you’d like to share with leaders of American hospitals and other health care organizations to address some of the latest challenges they’re facing?
Leaders of hospitals and other health care organizations need to go “back to basics” on the theory and practice of improvement. They need [to achieve] personal mastery of the sciences and experience that underlie the pursuit of quality as a strategy for [their] organization[s]. They—and, importantly, their board[s] of trustees—will need much deeper understanding of quality at the varsity level to help them ensure the most leveraged organizational investments in improvement.
This is a time of great distraction for health care executives and [governance] boards—and they will truly need “constancy of purpose for improvement” if they are to succeed in preserving—indeed, rescuing—quality in this troubled time.
What do you view as reasons or ways that health care organizations today could benefit from using the Baldrige Excellence Framework/Health Care Criteria?
The Baldrige framework and Criteria provide [an] orientation to willing health care leaders. They offer a chance to translate sound, scientific management approaches into organizational structures and actions. They compose the roadmap that leaders need.
No one can claim that Baldrige is the only plausible and useful approach, but it has a sterling track record, and it would be hard to find a better place to start. Health care's Baldrige [Award] winners are ready, willing, and able to become mentors to those who want to make the journey.
The conference will feature new and exciting opportunities to learn role model best practices from nationally recognized thought leaders, former Award recipients, and representatives from other high-performing organizations. Conference highlights include an Innovation Plenary session, featuring five Award recipient senior leaders, numerous concurrent sessions and networking opportunities, a plenary session featuring the Communities of Excellence 2026, and more.