Systems Thinking in Health Care - Health Care vs. Sick Care.

Sam Ottley
4 min readDec 3, 2019


Systems thinking is a problem-solving approach that analyses a problem within a system, surrounding elements that interact with the problem or are affected by it. Systems thinking uses the system as a process to achieve the goals of the system. Health care is an extremely complex business, there are different providers, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and doctors that provide thousands upon thousands of different services for people. Systems thinking can be best implemented into health care through management.

A systems thinker sees how the parts of an organization interact and how effectively people are working together. When we accomplish this, it helps us to see and think of ways to solve problems while seeing the entire process and system that makes it work. A great example of this is how we perceive things. For example, if we see an individual employee do something incorrectly or a way that is less efficient, stray away from asking questions like, ”What did this individual do wrong?”. Instead, see it from a systems thinking point of view and ask, “what is wrong with the current process or system that created this opportunity for error and how can we avoid it moving forward?” This also eliminates fear and blame and can encourages people to report more mistakes that can be learning opportunities for the future.

Looking at the health care system as a whole, I wanted to touch base on the concept of “Health Care vs Sick Care” from what I found in some of my research. Many people refer to our health care system at present as a sick care system rather than health care. This is a system that waits until we become sick before it kicks into action, instead of a health care system focused on helping everyone stay healthy and focus more on sickness prevention. Right now, the Unites States only spends 1–3% of the $2 Trillion in medical expenditures on public health. This is more than any other country, but it is even close to enough? Is our health care system beneficial to all as of right now? Of course, it is. Our health care systems can be classified as sick care, but it does bring a lot of value because it saves lives.

Keeping up to date on the most technologically advanced machines, medicine and doctors is something that helps us all and contributes to a healthy health care system. Sick care can be costly, though. As documented in a report by the Commonwealth Fund, Americans spend more on health care than any other industrialized country in the world. Even though we spend more, we are more ill and have shorter lifespans than do citizens of other industrialized countries. Need anymore proof that systems thinking can aid the United States health care system? Why is it that the United States has the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best academic health centers, the best nurses, the best medication, leaders in medical research and we do not have the best health in the world. We currently rank 46th in life expectancy and 57th overall in overall goodness and fairness as compared to 192 others. We need to eliminate sick care. Physicians need to become involved in population health, which encompasses genetic, social circumstances, environmental exposures, behavioral patters and health care. One of the greatest opportunities to improve health care and to reduce pre mature death exists in personal health. That can be difficult for a physician who has hundreds of patients in an effort to maximize profits while a sick individual has to wait months to be able to see their doctor.

The behavior and lifestyle in our country makes us more likely to get sick and have issues that are complex, chronic, life-lasting, life shortening and extremely expensive to treat. Today, many physicians tend to treat things as if they are more acute, as in the issue occurred and now it is treated. We are running into my illnesses that are chronic and long lasting. For example, weight gain and personal health which can lead to more health concerns down the road. Normally, if you find a doctor that you like and can see, it can take months or even years to make an appointment to see him or her. Physicians should be focusing on their patients and focusing more on handling the more chronic and complex issues, especially ones that can lead to more issues down the road, rather than taking on as many patients as possible to maximize profits. It is much easier said than done, but we need to eliminate the incentives for sick care and be able to focus more on being proactive rather than reactive and be able to provide cost effective care to patients. Then we can start seeing real results in health care vs. sick care and using a systems thinking approach to help the health care industry and it’s patients.