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Systems Thinking

Thinking and acting from a whole systems perspective enables leaders to determine solutions that will create a better health system for the future. This means not only seeing the details, but also the bigger picture of your work. This page provides resources to help leaders consider a broader perspective, looking at the health system both from a complex, organic systems view as well as a clinical, technical systems view.

Introducing Complexity and Systems Thinking

On May 7, 2013 Making the Connections exhibit opened at Urbanspace Gallery. This presentation opened the exhibit introducing complexity and systems thinking, and how they relate to the social determinants of health.

March 4, 2022
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Modeling the Determinants of Health in Complex Policy Environments: A System Dynamics Perspective

This presentation for the Centre for Research on Inner City Health adresses the need to develop modeling tools to understand complex systems and the social determinants of health, as well as as an overview of the Wellesley Institute’s Urban Health Model.

March 4, 2022
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Systems thinking for Health Systems Strengthening

This video was produced by the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research and was filmed during the launch of the Alliance's 2009 Flagship Report: Systems Thinking for Health Systems Strengthening, at the Global Forum for Health Research in Cuba last November 2009. It features experts and policy-makers from LMIC's providing their views on Systems thinking and its potential contribution to health systems strengthening in developing countries. For more information: http://www.who.int/alliance-hpsr

March 4, 2022
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Annie's Story: How a Systems Approach Can Change Safety Culture

Annie's story is an example of how healthcare organizations seeking high reliability embrace a just culture in all they do. This includes a system's approach to analyzing near misses and harm events—looking to analyze events without the knee-jerk blame and shame approach of old.

March 4, 2022
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Paul Farmer: The Need for Systems Thinking in Health Care

Global health pioneer and Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer, on the need to bring "systems thinking" into the discussion of improving the delivery of health care world-wide. Recorded Sept. 21, 2009, during a panel discussion "Reflections on Leadership for Social Change," part of the inauguration of Jim Yong Kim as 17th president of Dartmouth College.

March 4, 2022
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Spread Systems Thinking

This video is about Quantum Leap #7: Spread Systems Thinking.

March 4, 2022
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Peter Senge: Navigating Webs of Interdependence

Whether you are part of a family, organizational team or business in a supply chain, systems thinking is a valuable approach to understanding the complexity of today's world. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, Senior lecturer at MIT and Founder of the Society for Organizational Learning shares his perspectives on leadership and systems thinking in this video.

March 4, 2022
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How Do We Heal Medicine?

Our medical systems are broken. Doctors are capable of extraordinary (and expensive) treatments, but they are losing their core focus: actually treating people. Doctor and writer Atul Gawande suggests we take a step back and look at new ways to do medicine — with fewer cowboys and more pit crews.

March 4, 2022
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As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify

Why do people feel so miserable and disengaged at work? Because today's businesses are increasingly and dizzyingly complex — and traditional pillars of management are obsolete, says Yves Morieux. So, he says, it falls to individual employees to navigate the rabbit's warren of interdependencies. In this energetic talk, Morieux offers six rules for "smart simplicity." 

March 4, 2022
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Health care should be a team sport

When Eric Dishman was in college, doctors told him he had 2 to 3 years to live. That was a long time ago. Now, Dishman puts his experience and his expertise as a medical tech specialist together to suggest a bold idea for reinventing health care — by putting the patient at the center of a treatment team.

March 4, 2022
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Equiate Webinar: Systems Thinking and Public Health

We live in systems. Society is a system. Hierarchies are systems. Your workplace is a system. Issues reside in systems. Even if we are not aware of it, systems define the world around us. Increasing our understanding of systems, how they behave, and how to adjust them is therefore of some importance! This webinar provides an introduction to systems thinking, exploring its application in the field of public health.

March 4, 2022
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The condition of the Canadian health care system does not have to be discouraging

Society is reaching a turning point, where current mindsets and approaches no longer meet the challenges. The same can be said for our Canadian health care system. The older models of systems thinking and change no longer work in an overconnected world where systems become increasingly integrated with other systems.

March 4, 2022
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Health Care Management: The Contribution of Systems Thinking

This paper investigates the advantages of using Systems Thinking and System Dynamics in the analysis of health care systems. It demonstrates that the disappointing results observed in health care management are due to a lack of adoption of systemic methods to study these systems. The paper portrays the consequences and causes of policy resistance in health care systems and how they can be overcome by using the System Dynamics (SD) methodology. After a description of the previous areas of application of SD in health care management, an initial qualitative study of health care system reforms in the Republic of Georgia is described to demonstrate the extent of complexity involved in such systems.

March 7, 2022
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Peter Senge and the learning organization

Peter Senge’s vision of a learning organization as a group of people who are continually enhancing their capabilities to create what they want to create has been deeply influential. We discuss the five disciplines he sees as central to learning organizations and some issues and questions concerning the theory and practice of learning organizations.

March 7, 2022
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Systems & Design Thinking: A Conceptual Framework for Their Intergration

This paper explores the relationship between Systems and Design Thinking. It specifically looks into the role of Design in Systems Thinking and how looking at the world through a systems lens influences Design. Our intention is to show the critical concepts developed in the Systems and Design Thinking fields, their underlying assumptions, and the ways in which they can be integrated as a cohesive conceptual framework

March 7, 2022
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The Systems Thinker

A list of articles on systems thinking in the Health Care Sector.

March 7, 2022
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Systems Thinking and Leadership: How Nephrologists Can Transform Dialysis Safety to Prevent Infections

This paper explores the systemic factors contributing to the ongoing dialysis infection crisis in the United States and the role of nephrologists in instilling a culture of safety in which infections can be anticipated and prevented.

March 7, 2022
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Systems thinking and structural competence in and for medical education

This article discusses examples of systems thinking and structural competence that unfortunately are too often lacking in our day-to-day decision-making.

March 7, 2022
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Systems Thinking for Health System Strengthening

This Flagship Report from the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, which offers a fresh and practical approach to strengthening health systems through "systems thinking". This powerful tool first decodes the complexity of a health system, and then applies that understanding to design better interventions to strengthen systems, increase coverage, and improve health.

March 7, 2022
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Systems Thinking to Improve the Public’s Health

This paper lays a foundation for the conceptual understanding of systems thinking and transdisciplinary research, and provides illustrative examples within and beyond public health. A set of recommendations for a systems-centric approach to translational science is presented.

March 7, 2022
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Related PubMed Articles

View articles about leadership and system thinking in PubMed. 

March 7, 2022
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Handbook of Systems and Complexity in Health

This book is an introduction to health care as a complex adaptive system, a system that feeds back on itself. The first section introduces systems and complexity theory from a science, historical, epistemological, and technical perspective, describing the principles and mathematics. Subsequent sections build on the health applications of systems science theory, from human physiology to medical decision making, population health and health services research. The aim of the book is to introduce and expand on important population health issues from a systems and complexity perspective, highlight current research developments and their implications for health care delivery, consider their ethical implications, and to suggest directions for and potential pitfalls in the future.

March 7, 2022
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