I’m a physician, part of the enormous all-consuming machine called modern health care. This machine is driven by value-based best practice and end results. Literal life and death decisions are required daily, so naturally I become impatient when my son can’t decide between chocolate and vanilla or which movie to watch.
My cultivated Achilles’ heel of impatience has a tendency to interfere with daily interactions or decisions because of the dreaded decision fatigue that sometimes surfaces as a result of my chosen profession. I’ve wrestled this demon time and time before, not wanting to allow my profession mold my personal interactions.
My natural evolution as a physician, husband, and father has included complex searches focusing on areas of self-help, personal growth, and maturation. I’ve read literally thousands of pages focusing on communication, employee engagement, and managing the patient’s perception. Complex processes have given way to keywords, 5 step programs, and management initiatives. It’s ironic how in health care, we have accomplished so much in the way of cardiac bypass, organ transplant, and early goal-directed therapy while neglecting the obvious. We have become so sterile in the area of emotion and empathy, that interactions as innate as sitting at bedside or eye contact have to be taught or scripted. Casual conversation has been replaced by the cold and innovative. I’ve been a victim of this machine we call health care, and unfortunately, I’ve perpetuated the process.
In Western society, we have become professionals of complication. We create vast processes and complex algorithms, later returning to the obvious and simple calling it revolutionary or inspiring. The innovations of the 70s have been replaced by free range chickens, grass fed cattle, and oxygen therapy. Butter is back in favor over margarine and paleo has replaced many complex processed diets. Health care has come full circle, now focusing on patient-centered care and communication with less emphasis on the process at hand. Basic human interactions once lost to the machine of innovation have started to resurface, shedding a new encouraging shade of a previous vibrant light. I’m cautiously encouraged about our future at hand, feeling that innate and basic will triumph if not overcome by the need to innovate or mass replicate.
Through my travels and the educational quest to become a physician I’ve been many places. I’ve lived in the center of the world, and trained in highly innovative and cutting edge medical complexes. I’m fortunate to have been exposed to opportunities and experiences that would have seemed impossible when considering my humble beginnings. Ironically it was those long summer days in Southern Arkansas that may have taught me the most. It was on the back of pickup trucks or on the small town square where my education began. It was the life lessons of my father where I learned the value of saying thank you, expressing true empathy, and truly being able to listen and appreciate the words of others. It wasn’t until thirty years later, after being swept up by the machine that I understood the momentous power of simple sincerity and good communication.
How will health care continue to advance with improved patient care and outcomes? Advancement is destined to follow the marriage of the complex with the simple, the innate with the innovative.
Jeffrey McWilliams is an emergency physician who blogs at Advocates Of Excellence.
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