Friday, May 05, 2017
Business people now call quality and safety "MIPS," "MOC," "MACRA," or "measures." To me, these are not quality, but rather very flawed attempts to define it. Acronyms and business strategies, no matter how well-meaning, can't define "quality" or "safety" or 'value" in health care. When it takes teams of consultants dispatched hospitals to explain how to make money with these new terms, that's called marketing, not "quality" or "safety."
The truth be known, "quality" is very difficult to define. That's because each of us brings a different perspective as to what defines health care "quality." A gruff neurosurgeon who is technically flawless in the operating room is likely perceived differently by the recipient of his services compared to his coworkers. Defining quality in medicine is like defining pornography - you just know it when you see it. The tricky thing about "quality," though, is that we often miss it when it lies right beneath our nose.
Last Friday I had the luxury of working with my favorite technician as we worked to install a pacemaker. For that short period of time, he was my wingman. I didn't really think about much. Neither did he. It was a quiet, pleasant moment as we complemented each others' skills: instruments assembled neatly on the table, soft music playing in the background, the ultrasound ready, a blade dispensed, a quiet whisper for another instrument that was already in his hand. A sheath, a suture, a steristrip, a gauze and Tegaderm - and a mutual respect that had quietly developed over our many years working together. A "quality" effort for sure.
Foolishly, I took it for granted.
I have been fortunate to work with great wingmen (and women, too) all my career. They know who they are. They never ask for accolades and are often embarrassed when they are passed along. They get up every day, report like clockwork to do their job, and do it really well. There is pride in their work because they know it matters. They treat others as they'd want to be treated themselves, and patients remember - maybe not their name - but their touch, their reassurance, their confidence, their kind words. I have learned you don't need an advanced degree to define "quality." Nor do you need a National Quality Forum or National Committee on Quality Assurance. It takes time and mutual respect to develop real quality, not checklists, metrics, or administrators.
So when the call came a few days ago that my wingman was sick - suddenly and unexpectedly - time stood still for all of us. This quiet, humble guy who knew the composer of every golden oldie that played in our lab. A guy who's stood at my side so many times, helped so many, now a patient himself. Why? Naively, I had convinced myself that things would always stay the same and only get better. Instead, life intervened and his vacation trip to California became a trip to the hospital - a scan - a serious cancer - and a life turned upside down in an instant.
Sometimes it takes tragedy to open our eyes and appreciate the small but important things we have. Sometimes it takes tragedy to help us acknowledge the real quality we have among our ranks. Quality metrics, by comparison, seem trite.
My wingman is back home now among family and friends. I went to check in on him and there he was smiling, with PICC line in place and chemo infusing. He spoke a bit and exchanged some pleasantries. As I turned to walk away, what did he say?
"Thank you, doc. It might be a while before I can come back."
Spoken like a typical wingman.
I thanked him back. "Take your time," I said. My response seemed so trivial compared to all he's done for me.
I returned to our lab and saw our closely-knit team working together on another difficult case - like flying in formation with one jet missing. The elephant in the room was standing there. We could feel it. No one said a word. They chose to focus instead.
Quality wingmen all.