“This is what we do”

This is a good time to tell you that I’ve spent most of my life working in health care. As the daughter of a medical receptionist, my career started as soon as I could manage to file charts alphabetically. Somewhere around the age of eight.

Over the years, I’ve developed an awareness and a set of beliefs about how health care should be, and about what works and what doesn’t.

The other day when I called a local hospital and spoke to a radiologist on the phone about a client I saw who needed urgent diagnostic imaging, but who didn’t need to be assessed in the emergency department, I wasn’t happy or surprised when the response was, “Just send them to the emergency department. It’s the easiest way to get urgent imaging”. 

Nor was I thrilled or shocked when, on the same day, I received an email with a 25-page journal article attached. It was an important article and relevant to my practice, but as soon as I started to read it, I knew it would be difficult for me to remember and apply in practice.  

I don’t believe the majority of health care providers consciously misuse health care services, waste money and subject people to unnecessary care. I also don’t believe that researchers and authors want to write impractical and inconvenient articles for us.

So why is the emergency department the fastest way to get urgent diagnostic imaging? And why do researchers write articles that are hard to apply to real life?

One of the reasons, I think, is that we fall into the trap of believing that “the things we do” are the ultimate goals of our work. As a result, we get stuck with systems, processes and solutions that are based on what we knew and what was possible a century ago, rather than what we know today about the world and what people really need.

Instead of sticking with the lists of things we do and don’t do in our organizations, we ought to intentionally and regularly ask ourselves why we do what we do and if what we’re doing should be done the way we do it.

Knowing what we do is important, but it rarely leads to transformation and growth. Real change happens when we’re clear about our purpose and reasons for our work.