What is idealism? I looked it up…in philosophy it is any of various systems of thought in which the objects of knowledge are held to be in some way dependent on the activity of mind. Huh?
How about this definition? The practice of forming or pursuing an ultimate aim, especially one of high or noble character; especially unrealistically. Wow…unrealistically?
Well as any executive will tell you, based on the definition alone and daily business realities, there is no room for idealism in healthcare. I actually heard that as a direct quote from a VP in an interview with NPR. (No need to mention names) Healthcare as a business is about a delicate balance of service, quality, cost and people. Balancing reality with idealism can be incredibly difficult with a multi-million or even billion dollar organization. But I think there is an opportunity for balance or perhaps a re-defined focus.
Here is how I look at it…
What motivates you? Inspires you? Nurtures your soul? Hopefully a belief in a strong moral compass that points to your true north. I believe that in healthcare that is the patient. Patients are the ultimate gauge of the art of medicine and of the healthcare system. As a result we must put the patient first.
Every aspect of the health system should be evaluated through the eyes of the patient. That’s why many groups have started to include patients directly on their committees that drive organizational improvement. This is sometimes referred to as Patient Voice (I had direct involvement in this at my time in Clinica) and you can learn more about this from groups like the IHI. Patient voice helps re-shape conversations. Patients can ask questions that have become “sacred cows” over time in an organization, challenge the status quo and engage the hearts and minds of leadership through experiences and stories.
I believe that idealism absolutely has a home in healthcare and I define it through the patient. Yes, organizations need to meet regulations; yes, they need to make profits; yes, they need to grow and evolve…but why? Bigger bonuses? Market dominance? Compliance? I argue that they should aspire to be here for the patient and to meet the need. That does still mean that organizations need to make money, deliver on quality and service. Making money is not bad. A patient-centered company must stay around to continue it’s service to the patient.
Organizations that maintain a pure moral compass, and a clear mission can do both: be idealistic in delivering the best care, compassion and experience to the patient AND be a healthy viable organization.
In the coming posts I will take more about the “how”…