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Toby's Take: A Matter of Life and Death

Newly renovated Bell OR

April 25, 2023

When your grand total of healthcare experience includes watching all 251 M*A*S*H episodes and getting a cortisone shot in the knee once a year, you’re better off keeping your mouth shut and listening a lot.

This has not been my default, and I’m glad when I started at The University of Kansas Health System – 2 years ago today, in fact – I listened more than I spoke.

For instance, just because they scream, “Stat!” on medical shows doesn’t mean I need to for emphasis. And the other day when someone referenced a semicolon in a sentence, I refrained from making a pun about the other colon.

I’m growing.

What the numbers say

I did find a stat (short for statistic) recently while researching another story. It was on the refurbished operating rooms in Bell Hospital Tower on our 39th and Rainbow campus. Did you know we do about 20,000 surgeries a year in that original tower? Pretty much evenly divided between inpatient and outpatient. No wonder they needed some TLC.

Then, after a conversation with Rebekah Nicks, a data analyst at the health system, I went down a rabbit hole. Her super spreadsheets show we also performed more than 7,400 surgeries at Cambridge Tower A, again evenly split. All told, it’s more than 28,000 surgeries last year and 80,000 the last 3 years.

In the mood for more?

A year ago today, on my first anniversary at the health system, I wrote a blog post on our massive laboratory set-up. Neither lab administrative assistant Sarah Dillon nor I could believe it’s been a year. And Dillon updated me on lab stats, showing they’re on pace to perform more than 5 1/2 million tests this year, an average of 14,000-plus a day. Whew.

I could go on and on but won’t. Numbers aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, and they don’t tell the entire story.


Hospitals live on data

But hospitals, I’ve learned, live on data. Hospitals treat patients, hire oncologists and choose snack shop items based on numbers. That’s interesting for a sector that’s all about saving lives and improving health rather than crunching numbers. “Data-driven” is a concept seeped into the very structures of the place that is the region’s only academic health system.

It’s, frankly, a matter of life and death. Over the next 2 blogs posts, I’m going to share about both.

  • We’ve had a baby boom here at the health system. Over a 24-hour period recently, a record 17 babies were born in 1 day in the labor and delivery area of our 39th and Rainbow campus. That followed a record month – 264 births this past January. I counted the months, too, and the unit’s not sure why we’ve seen so many blessings.
  • Death is a part of life and a part of daily life at a health system. Yet it’s not overstating things to say patients come here thinking they have no hope, and they survive. In coming here first or seeking a second opinion. A last round of numbers!: There were 474 fewer deaths than expected based on patient severity of illness and risk of mortality last year and 4,719 fewer deaths than expected the last 16 years. When a patient does die, we don’t simply move on. Whatever you’ve heard about separating oneself from hard things that happen in a hospital setting, caregivers do need to process it somehow. A nurse-driven program called The Pause allows staff to do just that.

Having crossed over into Year 3, I won’t feel the need to reference personal milestones. Thankfully, I’ll just be here. “Here” is a pretty special place to be with all the excitement, triumph and heartbreak, life and death. Having said all this, The University of Kansas Health System really views all those numbers as one of many tools and certainly down the list from compassion and commitment.

Behind every number, every bit of data, is a patient wanting to get better. And chances are, because they’re here, they will.

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