This has been an interesting last couple of months, as my wife and I have had much interaction with the medical community—I’ll spare you the more intimate details! For the most part, I’ve been very impressed with the many changes for good I observed at the various medical facilities we were (yes, necessarily) able to visit. Changes like: online checklists, posted checklists and barcoding systems; all to make sure they are giving the proper care and medicines to the proper person.
However, at the office level, where written instructions and policies are given to anxious patients for home care or preparation for a medical procedure, there was often real need of improvement.
Several times, my wife and I—having asked for clarification about a facility’s printed instructions—heard comments like the following from various medical professionals:
"No, you really don't need to do that—we will take care of that during your procedure,” etc.
"That's a good question—I will ask about that and get back with you!"
"I'm really not sure about that, let me talk to the doctor, and I’ll call you tomorrow"
"Really? The instructions say that?"
The things I am talking about here were not life-threatening; however, if WE had so many questions on the printed instructions from these providers, I feel certain others had the same questions and concerns. In fact, we heard more than one medical professional admit, even with some irritation, that those printed medical instructions were “in bad need of updating!”
These seemingly small inconveniences for patients can be disconcerting and, I would suggest, costly. Yet, I believe most medical professionals would tell you it’s "just part of the job" or "business as usual."
Consider the time a patient loses when calling a medical facility; having to leave a message and then waiting sometimes days for a call back, so the patient can ask someone for clarification—only to be told, “I will have to ask someone else, and call you back!” Think of the time wasted by these medical professionals, having to interrupt each other, just to ensure patients have the latest and correct instructions—most of which will be shared with verbal communication.
The reason for these outdated instructions and miscommunications is that many smaller offices and clinics just don't have a system for updating their documents into a well-organized Operations Manual. In the medical community, the wrong information could be dangerous—even deadly!
Thank God, many new systems have been implemented for the more crucial matters, and that the message of quality control is being heard loud and clear in the medical community! Fact is, as I was walking through one really nice facility not far from our office, I was very glad to see a sign on an office door saying, QUALITY ADMINISTRATOR. Now we’re talking!
It would be so easy to reduce the number of phone calls to medical providers, if a simple system—such as an online Corrective Action/System Buster system—was implemented that would empower medical personnel to record, track and FIX every misunderstanding a patient might have with any printed instructions they are given. It would also be a deterrent to any other non-conforming events that happen in medical facilities daily—just as it happens in the printing industry and all other industries.
Next time you have occasion (especially, the necessity) to visit a medical facility, be sure to take notice of the systems they have in place “for the sake of your health”—your life may depend on it.
Did I mention? Great Systems Work?