Sometimes the best way to illustrate a point is by telling a little story.


My grandmother, Hazel Beverly, was in the hospital for two weeks. It took a while before I finally heard from a doctor; she'd been in the hospital for 10 days. He asked me about her advanced directives. I told him that we had presented them to the hospital when we brought her to the emergency room; they were never copied.

As it turns out, none of the other information we'd presented was copied either. The doctor said he wanted to send my grandmother for a CT contrast of the stomach; I stated that she was allergic to contrast material and that not only had that been in the records we brought but that I had mentioned that specifically to someone, for fear the issue might come up. I also mentioned other things she was allergic to as well as what medications she was on; none of that information had shown up in the record either.

It's an incredible disconnect when patients and office staff don't communicate well with each other. It's absolutely dangerous and incompetence when office staff is presented information in print and either gets it wrong or totally ignores it. All of this damages the credibility of the physician or the physician's office; after all, as Harry Truman stated, "the buck stops here."

Had my grandmother, in her very weakened condition, been given this contrast material, we all know what the consequences could have been. There was no need for that, and there's never a legitimate excuse for not making sure all medical information that's presented is copied and stored somewhere; patient care is ultimately the most important act that office staff could do, moreso than making sure they've obtained proper billing information.

Here's the thing. While I lament the condition of health care in many hospitals across the country these days, I know that it's not only hospitals that have inefficient staff. Just call customer service at a few companies and you'll be treated to more incompetence that you'd believe possible. I remember once calling a company and having to explain myself 3 different times. It seems that no one ever took notes saying I'd previously called, and I got 3 different answers. However, the last answer worked for me, so I didn't end up having to call again. But still, I was irked that I had to call 3 times; wouldn't you be?

I attribute this type of issue to 3 major problems:

1. Lack of true leadership

2. Disengaged work force

3. Insufficiently trained employees.

One can rank these in any order they wish to, but it all comes down to these 3 things, although other factors exacerbate the problems dramatically.

What's the point of having procedures if no one's going to follow them?

For that matter, do you have procedures?

Does leadership know what it's actual responsibilities are? Do they hold anyone, including themselves responsible?

The lucky thing for most industries is that the decisions or lack of decisions aren't normally life threatening. In health care, they are. You can bet that had anything happened to my grandmother, as it did to my dad (that's a tale for another time), the lawsuit wouldn't have been big enough or loud enough for my tastes.

But why would any leaders anywhere want to take that kind of chance, health care or not?