National Doctors’ Day

Post date: March 30, 2018 by James Hanson

It seems like most every day is a “National Day” of something. In fact, according to www.nationaldaycalendar.com, National Doctor’s Day is also National Pencil Day, National Take a Walk in a Park Day, and National Turkey Neck Soup Day. I do enjoy walks in the park and the simple pleasures of using a pencil (love that eraser!), though I am fairly sure I will never have turkey neck soup. Doctors, however, have my undying respect and fondness.

Physicians have gone through so much just to be able to practice. One has to be hard-working and excel academically to make it into medical school (a minority of applicants to U.S. medical schools get in).* One has to complete a minimum 3-year residency, working 80 hours per week. One defers income and usually goes deeply into debt before starting practice. Then, doctors are thrust into processes that have developed without thoughtful planning, making it very difficult for them to focus their talents on helping the patients to whom they devote their careers.

I have worked with thousands of physicians through my career. I have never met one who did not care about patients. I have, however, seen many doctors struggle to meet their patients’ demands. I am one of those struggling physicians. This struggle is leading many to burn out – surprisingly most often young physicians. It is essential that we work as healthcare teams to analyze our current processes, remove the embedded wastefulness, and allow more time and energy to be spent on truly improving the well-being of patients.

To remove the pernicious wastes, we need first to train people to recognize them and then to empower people to try doing things differently—to scientifically test ideas so we can find out what does improve quality, safety, and efficiency. When people get creative and are willing to fail as they try new ideas, progress can be made. I have seen great experiments work: rearranging patient care areas so what is needed is right at hand; building systems that avoid interruptions by moving from batches to one-piece flow, with planned time between segments of uninterrupted work to address what used to be an interruption; rearranging the sequence of a process; redistributing work to level the load and to allow doctors to work at the top of their licensure; eliminating steps that are redundant or don’t add value; improving signaling between people; and creating mistake-proofing devices and checklists to ensure quality is built in to each process step.

On this National Doctors’ Day, I would like everyone to recognize the dedication, hard work, and sacrifice of our physicians – but then also to help by working with them to reduce the burdens on their work so they can find more joy while improving the care they so genuinely want to provide.

* Source: Association of American Medical Colleges 2017-2018 data: https://www.aamc.org/download/321494/data/factstablea16.pdf