If You Can’t Measure Performance, Can You Improve It?

Robert A. Berenson, MD
Submitted: November, 2020

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is an often-quoted admonition commonly attributed to the late W. Edwards Deming, a leader in the field of quality improvement. Some well-respected health policy experts have adopted as a truism a popular variation of the Deming quote—“if something cannot be measured, it cannot be improved”. The problem is that Deming actually wrote, “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth” (my emphasis added)—the exact opposite. So much for “evidence-based policymaking”—we can’t even get quotations right. No wonder there is such disagreement over the effect of Obamacare. The requirement for measurement as essential to management and improvement is a fallacy, not a self-evident truth and not supported by Deming, other management experts, or common sense.

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