Senator John Heinz


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The Heinz Awards


Donald Berwick

Dr. Donald Berwick receives the Heinz Award in Public Policy for his dedication to overhauling the nation's mistake-prone health care industry.

A physician and innovative health care reformer, Dr. Donald Berwick has provided trailblazing leadership to improve the ways health care providers and institutions care for patients. As co-founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and clinical professor of pediatrics and health care policy at Harvard Medical School, he has been an energetic and determined champion behind a movement to overhaul the nation's mistake-prone health care system.

While most renowned doctors are focused on curing life-threatening illnesses, Dr. Berwick has spent over 20 years trying to cure health care by reducing medical mistakes and streamlining medical processes. Along the way, Dr. Berwick has diverged from the normative view in medicine that embraces independence and autonomy. Instead, he suggests that more collaboration and less variation among doctors and other hospital staff will help to improve patient safety and ultimately save lives.

He must be doing something right. He and his colleagues at IHI have pioneered an array of reforms in how hospitals and medical practices care for patients, greatly reducing the millions of incidents of medical harm that IHI estimates occur annually.

Dr. Berwick began his career as a pediatrician at the Harvard Community Health Plan, becoming vice president of quality-of-care measurement. After learning what he could from quality improvement leaders in other industries - including those at Bell Labs and Toyota - he became convinced that health care could be transformed by embracing the same techniques.

In 2004, Dr. Berwick and IHI launched the 100,000 Lives Campaign, which encouraged U.S. hospitals to focus on improvements in care and evidence-base medical protocols in six areas. IHI estimates that the 3,000 participating hospitals avoided approximately 122,000 unnecessary deaths during the 18-month campaign period. While this result cannot be attributed solely to IHI's work, the campaign clearly contributed to overall improvement in hundreds of hospitals. Building on this success, Dr. Berwick and IHI launched the 5 Million Lives Campaign in late 2006, expanding the focus to 12 improvements in care designed to significantly reduce medical harm in U.S. hospitals.

Dr. Berwick's influence ranges well beyond the United States. Under his guidance, broad scale improvement initiatives are underway in Canada, Denmark, the U.K., Sweden, South Africa and Malawi.

Armed with courage of conviction and a steadfast willingness to take on an entrenched industry, Dr. Donald Berwick has helped bring about comprehensive reforms within the health care system - reforms that have significantly reduced the prevalence of all-too-frequent medical errors. He has provided the conscience for change, leading a revolution - sometimes quiet although often loud and persistent - that puts well-coordinated, safe patient care foremost for health care providers.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


October 2012 - The Institute of Medicine awarded the 2012 Gustav O. Lienhard Award to Donald M. Berwick, for work that has catalyzed a national movement to improve health care quality and safety. IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg stated that Dr. Berwick's "unwillingness to accept mediocre outcomes as the norm in health care delivery has led to comprehensive reforms and streamlined processes that have significantly reduced rates of medical errors throughout the health system." - The National Academies

April 2010
- President Obama has nominated Dr. Donald M. Berwick, a health policy expert, to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs health programs insuring nearly one-third of all Americans. Dr. Berwick personifies Mr. Obama's determination to shake up the health care system. Working with numerous hospitals and clinics around the country, Dr. Berwick has shown that it is possible to reduce medical errors and improve the quality of care while reducing its cost and has been described as "a visionary leader" - The New York Times


10/22/2007 - Acceptance Speech

Thank you very much Mrs. Heinz. I want to begin by expressing my thanks to my family, my wife Ann, and son Ben who are here, and my children Dan, Jess and Becca.

I do deeply appreciate this award, but I'm also very embarrassed because I know that the work and the progress that this award is intended to recognize are not truly my own at all, but are really those of a large and growing number of leaders in health care - not just in the United States, but now worldwide - these problems are global problems, there not just American problems, we're trying to improve health care systems that are very fragile and often surprisingly defective. But those people know and what I know is that, despite the skill and the often very heroic efforts of the people who give care in all countries, our systems as a whole are falling very far short of their scientific potential to relieve suffering and to reduce the total cost and burden of illness in the world.

The good news is that systems can be changed to achieve care that is far better, far safer, more effective, more patient-centered, more under the control of patients and far less costly. The bad news is that change of that type in large systems, in our case, the United States, a two trillion dollar system, is very difficult and leading change calls on every skill that we have, from technical skills, to political skills, to spiritual skills. Skills I think that the more I study the career of Senator Heinz I believe he had. Eleanor Roosevelt said something that is one of my favorite quotes; she said "you must do the thing you think you can not do."

And I am deeply inspired by how many good people here and abroad - nurses and doctors, other clinicians, staff, and managers - are trying now to make the changes we need. I am very grateful for the recognition that this award gives not so much to my achievements, but to theirs.

Thank you very much.

Donald Berwick