What doctors, managers, and employees can learn from veterinarians
“Let’s insist on getting medical care as good as our dogs get!”
That was a statement made in the most recent post from the Patient Safety Blog, a forum dedicated to keeping us all safe from medical errors in our healthcare system. (I highly recommend this wonderful blog if you’re interested in learning more about the important topic of Patient Safety.)
This particular post from last Friday suggested that healthcare practitioners follow a simple and low-cost process of issuing written instructions for patients, a practice more common with veterinarians. Since most healthcare facilities are now using electronic medical records (EMR), it shouldn’t be difficult to do. Given the implications of serious medical complications that could arise if someone doesn’t understand or remember what to do, the benefits far outweigh any downside of figuring out a process to produce these instructions.
Some of you may recall the recent visit I made to the holistic vet when I was trying to sort through Grace’s dietary issues. As part of that visit, the vet offered a homeopathic remedy for the seizures that Grace has. I received thorough, detailed written instructions to remind me of what we discussed. She had even documented driving instructions to the nearest emergency clinic for any after hours situations. But it didn’t stop there. The instructions included how to get home! Presumably, once you arrived at the clinic, you’d know how to return, but she said, if it’s after hours, it’s likely dark, and you’re probably overwhelmed and stressed. She felt it was much better to have things clear and easy, precisely because you already have a lot on your mind. And she’s right. Even if you don’t have to look at the directions, it’s a good feeling to know you can.
Any business has risks when people fail to comply with delegated assignments. Patient safety is certainly an obvious one in the healthcare field. Other visible examples include automobile and medical device manufacturers that produce products with significant safety impact if processes are not clear and/or not followed.
But even if the process isn’t life-threatening, it can be a frustrating experience. My husband shopped for greeting cards, among other items, at a local store on Saturday. After getting home, he realized that the small bag had been left behind; he called and spoke to the service desk who found the cards and agreed to hold them until the next day. However, when I got there on Sunday afternoon, they couldn’t find the cards and assumed an employee had put them back on the shelves! They had taken the time to hand-write the 15 digit-SKUs from each of the three cards in the spiral-bound holder labeled “LEFT BEHIND BOOK” but no one had made the simple notation that we were coming back to retrieve (we had already paid for them after all!). Seems to me it would have been easier to skip the documentation of which cards were in the bag, but rather put a sticky note outside the bag that said, “Customer returning on Sunday for pick-up.”
On Sunday, we went for a walk with friends who have two small children. Their three-year-old son was leading us on the hike because he remembered — after just one walk several weeks ago — to look for the blue diamond markers that would show him the way to go. Documentation doesn’t have to be long and verbose to be effective. In fact, simple trumps complicated every time.
So what’s the importance of written documentation? What’s your opinion? Do you think it’s worth documenting hand-offs? Or do you see it as a waste of time?
Can you think of times when your work was impacted by the presence (or absence) of work instructions?