Health care is different
During my wife’s recent health crisis I noticed we were both hypersensitive to almost every health care interaction. We hung on each word and reacted to a tone of voice or averted eyes. Would we have reacted this way in a non-health care setting such as Target or the grocery store? Of course not, as we would not necessarily be feeling anxious or vulnerable in a checkout line. Essentially, as patient and family member, we needed compassion and caring in every single interaction- from clinicians to nurses to check-in to phone calls to nurse’s aides to lab technicians to environmental services team members.
Sitting at my wife’s bedside at Methodist, I reflected on our longing for compassion and caring as I watched team members perform myriad essential tasks (e.g. validating Susan’s identity, bar code medication administration, checking drug sensitivities, handling blood products, documenting records) within the urgent multi-tasking environment of modern health care. As a physician and CEO, I knew these tasks involve life and death decisions and drive safety and great clinical outcomes.
As a family member and CEO, I marveled at how health care is distinct from other service sector operations. In health care, patients/families, CEOs and each of us as team members expect a two dimensional approach to care. We ask team members to provide compassionate, attentive responsiveness as well as expertise in managing life and death decisions. I wondered whether another industry held the same simultaneous expectations within both dimensions. I could not think of one.
The airline industry involves life and death tasks. But pilots barricade themselves behind locked doors, avoiding requests from passengers. Flight attendants play a role in managing safety during a crisis but averting disaster does not directly hinge on their performance. And we expect courtesy of flight attendants, not compassion. The role of air traffic control and maintenance are also outside the scope of passenger interaction.
Personnel on the flight deck of aircraft carriers manage life and death decisions but expect crisp, task oriented communication from each other- not compassion.
The auto industry involves life and death tasks but these take place in the design and manufacturing phase far away from consumers. And we don’t expect compassion from auto engineers and assembly line workers.
Police interact with us in life and death situations, but we expect courtesy, not compassion. (Perhaps crime victims expect compassion but unlike patients/families they can’t take their business elsewhere if they are not satisfied with the level of compassion)
The nuclear energy industry entails the performance of life and death tasks. Yet, consumers sit comfortably in their homes separated from the technicians performing these tasks.
Health care is different. I am proud to work in an endeavor that expects staff to provide outstanding care in the performance of life and death tasks and by interacting with compassion. I also know how difficult it is. I believe that our culture of “Head+Heart, Together” moves Park Nicollet in the right direction by combining discipline about life and death tasks (Head) with compassion (Heart).
What do you think is the correct balance of expertise and compassion? Please free free to leave a comment. As always, we encourage a free exchange of ideas, but we reserve the right to remove comments that make personal criticisms or attacks on individuals or specific businesses.