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Too Much Stupid Stuff

by Kim Bellard, November 16, 2018

Melinda Ashton, M.D., has a great article in NEJMGetting Rid of Stupid Stuff. It describes a program her health system (Hawaii Pacific Health) undertook to do exactly that, with some promising results.

The impetus of their program was to address the issue of burnout, specifically around documentation burdens. Their EHR had been in place for 10 years, and they reasoned that some tasks might no longer be necessary or appropriate. So, starting October 2017, they asked all employees to nominate anything in their EHR that was “poorly designed, unnecessary, or just plain stupid.”

Dr. Ashton and her team reminded employees that: “Stupid is in the eye of the beholder. Everything that we might now call stupid was thought to be a good idea at some point.” Fair enough. They expected nominations to be in three categories:

  • unintended documentation that could easily be eliminated;
  • documentation that was needed but that could be collected more efficiently;
  • documentation that needed better training to accomplish.

They ended up getting nominations in all three categories, and have already implemented a number of changes, as well as eliminating 10 of the most frequent 12 physicians alerts. The program has now been extended beyond just documentation and beyond just the EHR because, as Dr. Ashton writes: “It appears that there is stupid stuff all around us.”

It would be easy but short-sighted to take healthcare’s collective frustration out on EHRs. But let’s not kid ourselves: EHRs are not the stupidest thing we have in healthcare. EHRs may, in fact, be the smartest stupid thing healthcare has done, because at least there are significant upsides to having EHRs, even if we’re not achieving them yet. There are plenty of things we do in healthcare that are just plain stupid.

Admit it: if you work in healthcare, you see stupid stuff every day. Some are things imposed on you from external sources, and some are things required by your own organization. As Dr. Ashton cautioned, some may have been a good idea at some point. Some may never have been a good idea. Some are things that just keep getting done simply because of habit/ tradition/rules. Some are stupid things that someone, somewhere, still thinks is a good idea but, when push comes to shoving patient care, aren’t. They’re still stupid, and should be stopped.

The program at Hawaii Pacific Health as aimed primarily at reducing daily frustrations for its employees, but we need to go much further. These kinds of programs need to attack daily frustrations for all stakeholders, and especially for patients.

If you are a healthcare leader, start a program like this. If you work in a healthcare organization, advocate for one until your leadership puts one in. If you are a patient or family member of one, don’t wait for a formal program from the healthcare organizations you interact with; speak up about the stupid stuff you see and have to deal with, and make sure your thoughts get to those organizations’ leadership.

It’s stupid to accept stupid stuff, especially with something as valuable as our health at stake.

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

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