Balancing humility and impatience as we work on getting better at getting better

Balancing humility and patience 2012-05-09 resize

Last month, I had the privilege of not only listening to our keynote speakers present at Quality Summit 2012, but also to spend some time with each of them one on one. In their presentations and our subsequent conversations, I was struck by something that all of them said in one shape or form: As we work to transform our health care system here in Saskatchewan, we must be both hard – and easy – on ourselves.

Easy, in that we need to be patient. Cut yourself some slack, I heard them say. You are going to stumble on this journey of learning how to improve. Here are short clips of Sarah Patterson and Paul Levy, reminding us there is no one right way to transform a health care system. Patterson is Executive VP and COO at Virginia Mason Medical Center; Levy is former President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Centre in Boston, and author of the widely read blog, Not Running a Hospital.

At the same time, we need to be continuously pushing ourselves to do more and do it faster – for the sake of the patients and families we serve. In the clips below, Jim Easton and Patterson warn against being too patient or complacent. That good is never good enough. And that we must keep raising the bar. Easton is National Director for Improvement and Efficiency, with the National Health Service in the UK.

Transforming health care requires us to be humble AND – at the same time – relentless in our pursuit of making care better and safer. We need to get comfortable with this constructive tension between accepting that we won’t get things right the first time and never being satisfied. These other systems we’re learning from have been on their transformation journeys for 10 years or more. And they’re still working on getting better at getting better. They’ve learned that there’s no end point on their journey. It’s about the process not the destination.

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2 Responses to “Balancing humility and impatience as we work on getting better at getting better”

  1. Gary Teare
    Gary Teare
    May 16, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Hi Greg,
    Thanks for this post – reminding us that we’ll have to live in the tension between being patient with (and learning from) the mistakes we’ll make as we try to improve AND constantly impatient with the results we’re getting.

    I’m down at Virginia Mason Medical Center (VMMC) this week in Seattle – attending a Mistake Proofing course with a great bunch from Five Hills Health Region and a few of us from HQC.

    Yesterday, as part of his presentation to us, Dr. Henry Otero of the Virginia Mason Institute told us about all the quality awards that VMMC has won in recent years. Then he went on to say “…but you know what quality awards in health care mean, don’t you? Not much. Just means your the best of a bad lot.” His point was -that while it is important to celebrate successes along the way – it mustn’t go to our heads because all of health care is a long way from zero defects!


    • Greg Basky
      Greg Basky
      May 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

      It really IS a tension we have to learn to live with, isn’t it? We need to pause and celebrate the progress we’re making — but not lose sight of the fact that there’s still a long road ahead. Glad to hear you’re learning lots at Virginia Mason. Love that quote from Dr. Otero. He’s spot on.

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