Several months ago, my toilet broke. You should also know that I’m not particularly handy. So when I first realized that the toilet bowl seemed to fill constantly, I got a little stressed out.
How much was it going cost to call in a plumber on the weekend?
What kind of a water bill was I going to have?
Was this a serious problem?
I took a quick peek in the tank, but that just made me more confused. I was paralyzed by a lack of know-how.
Normally, I would have just Googled a local plumber. But that day, I decided to do something different. Maybe it was because it was the fantasy football offseason. Maybe it was because my wife had started to ask my father-in-law to change light bulbs around the house. Or, maybe, I wanted to learn to actually fix the problem. A few hours later, after an Internet lesson in toilet physiology, a $4.12 trip to Home Depot, and a wet pair of hands, I had replaced my first toilet flapper.
This wasn’t the rebuilding of a car engine, but it was a clear DIY step toward self-improvement. Easily the most memorable moment here was my sense of accomplishment.
I felt empowered.
One Part Science, One Part Art
It’s taken me a while to realize this, but I’ve begun to take advantage of improvement opportunities at work as well. No, I haven’t been moonlighting as a plumber for my hospital. I’ve just been fortunate to be part of a trifecta of rewarding quality-improvement (QI) projects over the past year. Before I’d gotten my hands dirty with these, my understanding of QI was fairly naive. I’d heard about Plan-Do-Study-Act many times. I had listened to a talk at a national conference. And I had kept up with the general medical literature on the subject.
But none of those activities had truly prepared me for experience of actually doing the work on my own.
By taking on a project, an ambitious attempt to reduce continuous pulse oximetry use, I experienced a crash course in both the science and the art of process improvement. I was forced to overcome my “I don’t know how” inertia. And with expert guidance in the form of a clinical safety and effectiveness class, I learned the importance of run charts (science) and a well-crafted multidisciplinary team (art) in changing established but inefficient behavior.
Our rates of continuous pulse oximetry usage dropped by 50%, and cost savings were $12,000 per year on one unit. These results made my prior attempts at change—years of complaining about ingrained nursing culture—look infantile. (OK, maybe it was ineffective, but who hasn’t complained about the overuse of continuous monitoring?)
I haven’t met a pediatric hospitalist who wouldn’t understand the symbolic importance of this success. But I know of many hospitalists who have not yet participated in meaningful QI project. Imagine calling a plumber who grasped the flush and fill mechanism of a toilet but had never touched real porcelain. Here’s an even better analogy: What if doctors could get licensed without having touched real patients?
If pediatric hospitalists are to transform the care delivery of hospitalized children, and quality learning only comes through hands-on training, then we need some more hands in the pot.
On the heels of my first project, I was fortunate enough to augment my education through another effort—this time with a cohort of fellow pediatric hospitalists. This was a national collaborative to improve discharge handoffs, and I will admit that, at the outset, I was as puzzled as the first time I pulled the lid off the tank of the toilet. There were just too many permutations on PCP communication at the participating institutions, and some felt our aim of timely discharge handoffs was unattainable.