Thirty years ago, I started as a young assistant administrator at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, NJ. As you can imagine, I went in as a wide-eyed idealist about medicine and its ability to cure everything.
The first thing I did as administrator was get sick, having been exposed to every germ known to man. As I dragged myself into the cafeteria to have lunch with a pathologist who had befriended me, I asked him what doctor I should go see (even as a newbie, I realized you didn’t want to have a pathologist as your primary care physician).
He recommended Steve Vasso, an internist who became my primary care physician and mentor in all things medical. One time, when I had bad stomach problems, Steve ran all of the usual tests. I saw him coming down the hall, looking very grim.
“Give me the bad news,” I asked.
“You have the GOKs,” he said.
I, of course, think I am dead.
“You have a very bad case of the God Only Knows.”
Steve was the first one who taught me medicine was an art and not a science. He felt they only knew 20 percent of why some people got better and others didn’t. It was a shock to understand that the laws of nature could be so capricious.
Somewhere during that first year, two of my co-workers had surgery and both got serious infections. I asked Steve why it seemed we always hurt our “family” members. The eye roll told me medicine was an art, not a science, and what I should have known was it wasn’t only our “family” we hurt, but others as well.
In 2005, I learned at an Institute of Medicine (IOM) conference that there was more science to hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) and healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) than I previously believed. No more was it about “collateral damage.” There was science involved and it wasn’t rocket science. Wash your hands, gown and follow a similar path when dealing with patient treatments. How could it be simpler?
Another truism I learned was culture eats science every day.
For too long, we have allowed culture to get in the way of providing quality and safe care for patients. Hospitals must change their culture and do it soon. Other than higher education, there is no other field I know that is so resistant to change, even if it is doing the right thing.
As healthcare leaders, it is up to us to make that culture change to one of safety first, safety all the time, safety last.
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