A recent article in Becker’s Healthcare, “‘Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste’: How Change Cyberattack Could Change Healthcare,” got me thinking about this mindset and its troubling contrast with tackling everyday problems. 

A massive cyberattack and data breach constitute a huge problem, of course, requiring multi-pronged investigation and a multitude of solutions and preventive measures. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation that impacts patients and staff, with potentially far-reaching consequences. 

The phrase, “never let a crisis go to waste,” implies that the crisis-causing issue(s) will be determined as rapidly and completely as a dedicated team of experts can do. Then the team will devise countermeasures and solutions to ensure that a breach never happens again. Apologies will be made, compensation will be paid to breach victims, lessons will be learned, and the team will disband. With the crisis passed, things will return to “normal.” 

But “normal” probably means that all the other daily problems that staff and leaders at all levels of the health system face are still there, still disrupting safe, effective, efficient provision of care and service. Unfortunately, many in healthcare have normalized their daily problems and the work-arounds are now so habituated that they are just part of the process. 

In a way, this means that the “lessons learned” from the data breach become “lessons forgotten.”

Small Problems, Systemic Problems

Work-arounds and anything else that interrupt the flow of work is waste. Time, effort, and expertise are just a few types of waste. Not only that, there are circumstances where waste compromises and impacts patient and staff safety, quality of care, reputation, morale and engagement, and finances (to name just a few). “Typical” problems, therefore, have atypical consequences.

Why do we let any problem become a recurring part of the routine? Something may seem like a small issue, and maybe it is - in isolation. Chances are, though, that there are hundreds of “small” issues encountered every day in a health system. Every “small” issue takes someone’s (or multiple persons’) time and energy, and that adds up very quickly to a lot of non-added time in the workday of a lot of people. 

Do patients want to see more of their nurses and other caregivers in order to get all the benefits of their expert and compassionate care? Would nurses and other caregivers rather spend more of their time and energy providing care, talking with patent families, working full-time at the top of their license, and feeling engaged and fulfilled at the end of every shift? Would leaders like to report to the board and community that there have been zero staff injuries, zero patient harm events, best-ever HCAHPS scores, and Leapfrog Safety Grades of A? I think those are all an easy “yes.”

Eliminate Systemic Problems with a Real-Time Problem-Solving System

Those desired things can be achieved in a systematic, scientific way. One element of that path is to treat the everyday problems like a crisis. The most senior leaders need to get in front to develop and refine existing problem-solving processes into an organization-wide real-time problem-solving system. This RTPS system is for every person, from the C-suite to the front line, from call centers to caregivers to foodservice to EHS to accounting. Every person has some type of expertise to offer to solve problems to root so they do not recur.

When every person in an organization is provided with the training, resources, support, and time to use the scientific method to solve problems, workarounds and waste diminish and continue diminishing while bedside time increases, quality, safety, and engagement improve, and other vital performance and mission measures move in the intended direction. 

We sometimes refer to this real-time problem solving system as “everyone, every day, everywhere.” An organization, especially a complex entity such as a health system, cannot perform or sustain performance at levels that achieve the system’s mission. 

It is not easy to build an RTPS system, nor is it easy to sustain. But it has been done, it is being done, and visionary leaders understand that they will not be able to fulfill the health system’s vital goals without equipping their workforce with this structure and these capabilities. These leaders also understand that every “small” problem is a crisis in waiting, and that is why the problem-solving system needs to address issues in as close to real-time as possible.


You can learn more about Real-Time Problem Solving here

Learn how the University of Virginia Health System reduced patient and staff harm, and improved the supply chain flow, and saved millions of dollars. 

See how Duke HomeCare & Hospice continuously improves - and reduces nurse turnover - by continuously learning in this white paper and in this webinar recording

Read the transcript and watch the recording of this webinar - Use Your Crisis Muscles to Accelerate Your Organizational Excellence.

You may also like

Navigating Patient Flow Challenges: A Lean Approach to Root-Cause Problem Solving
Navigating Patient Flow Challenges: A Lean Approach to Root-Cause Problem Solving
22 August, 2023

Stop me if you have heard this before in your patient flow improvement work: “We just need to do ______, it’s best pract...

How to Foster Problem-Solving and Improvement
How to Foster Problem-Solving and Improvement
3 January, 2023

The other morning, I noticed that there was toothpaste smeared on the shower wall and of course this raised questions fo...

Submit a comment