The Feigned Complexity of Simple Things

From Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman:

That’s right, Buurtzorg [a nurse-led home healthcare organization] is better for patients, nicer for employees and cheaper for taxpayers. A win-win-win situation. Meanwhile, the organisation continues to grow. Every month, dozens of nurses leave other jobs to sign on with Buurtzorg. And no wonder: it gives them more freedom and more pay. When Buurtzorg recently acquired part of a bankrupt counterpart, de Blok announced: ‘The first thing we’re going to do is raise staff salaries.’

Don’t get me wrong: Buurtzorg isn’t perfect. There are disagreements, things go awry–really, they’re almost human. And the organisational structure is, if anything, old-fashioned, with de Blok’s aim always having been a return to Holland’s uncomplicated domestic healthcare services of the 1980s.

But the bottom line is that what Jos de Blok started back in 2006 is nothing short of extraordinary. You might say his organisation combines the best of left and right, spending taxpayer money on the delivery of small-scale care by independent practitioners.
De Blok sums up his philosophy like this: ‘It’s easy to make things hard, but hard to make them easy.’ The record clearly shows that managers prefer the complicated. ‘Because that makes your job more interesting,’ de Blok explains. ‘That lets you say: See, you need me to master that complexity.’

The complexity is both a feature and a bug.

Could it be that’s also driving a big part of our so-called ‘knowledge economy’? That pedigree managers and consultants make simple things as complicated as possible so we will need them to steer us through all the complexity? Sometimes I secretly think this is the revenue model of not only Wall Street bankers but also postmodern philosophers peddling incomprehensible jargon. Both make simple things impossibly complex.

Layers upon layers of bullshit jobs.

Jos de Blok does the opposite: he opts for simplicity. While healthcare conferences feature highly paid trend-watchers auguring disruption and innovation, he believes it’s more important to preserve what works. ‘The world benefits more from continuity than from continual change,’ he asserts. ‘Now they’ve got change managers, change agents, and so forth, but when I look at actual care in the community, the job has scarcely changed in thirty years. You need to build a relationship with someone in a tough situation; that’s a constant. Sure, you may add some new insights and techniques, but the basics haven’t changed.’

There is a ton of inefficiency in healthcare, but most of it is around and distracting from the actual care of people’s health: billing games, crufty software and documentation, and agonizing compliance schemes. But, it’s also true that real healthcare–taking care of actual humans–should also be at least a little “inefficient”: it takes time to treat people like three-dimensional humans deserving of dignity, respect, and a real conversation.

What does need to change, De Blok will tell you, is the care system. In recent decades, healthcare has been colonised by lawyers. ‘Now you’re in opposing camps. One side sells, the other buys. Just last week I was at a hospital where they told me: We have our own sales team now. It’s crazy! We have hospitals with commercial departments and procurement teams, all staffing people with no background in healthcare at all. One buys, the other sells, and neither have a clue what it’s all about.’

The number of decision-makers in healthcare who do not understand healthcare remains astonishing.

All the while, the bureaucracy keeps proliferating, because when you turn healthcare into a market, you end up with piles of paperwork. ‘Nobody trusts anybody else, so they start building in all these safeguards; all kinds of checks that result in a ton of red tape. It’s downright absurd,’ says De Blok. ‘The number of consultants and administrators at insurance companies is growing, while the number of actual caregivers continues to shrink.’

De Blok advocates a radically different approach to healthcare funding. Scrap the product mentality, he says. Make care central again. Drastically simplify the costs. ‘The simpler the billing, the greater the emphasis on actual care,’ he explains. ‘The more complicated the billing, the more players will search for loopholes in the system, increasingly tipping the balance towards accounting departments until they’re the ones defining care.’

“Scrap the product mentality.”

“Make care central again.”

“Drastically simplify the [billing/]costs.”

Leave a Reply