"Atul Gawande coaches culture Patient Safety"

Coaches in Healthcare

Originally posted 10-5-2011:
I don't make it a secret that Atul Gawande is one of my favorite writers in the world of Healthcare. Once again I have found his latest New Yorker article very intriguing and insightful.

Gawande writes about the importance of coaches, especially around how the world's best athletes have coaches to push them to be better. But he wonders if there is a need for coaches in Healthcare. Here is a world that is full of highly intelligent, well trained, specialized professionals. Do physicians and nurses really need coaches? Can patients accept that care givers should have coaches? It would be a challenge...and Gawande sums it up well by saying:

  • "I have spoken to other surgeons about the idea. “Oh, I can think of a few people who could use some coaching” has been a common reaction. Not many say, “Man, could I use a coach!” Once, I wouldn’t have, either."

Gawande's story of having an old mentor come observe his surgeries to coach him on improving his technique was very interesting to read. There must be something to the concept if he felt his surgeries were running smoother and his complication rates were decreasing. Looking at the sports analogy, even the best athletes have coaches that can make their game even better.  It would be a big cultural barrier to overcome, but I hope others take a close look at this article. This may be one of those outside the box ideas that can really have an impact on patient outcomes.

There was one other line I had to highlight:

  • "Talk about medical progress, and people think about technology...But the capabilities of doctors matter every bit as much as the technology. This is true of all professions. What ultimately makes the difference is how well people use technology. We have devoted disastrously little attention to fostering those abilities."
Given the increased use of technology and the increasing specialization of medicine, I have to imagine care givers will need additional education and training, beyond today's traditional methods, to be effective. Makes me wonder if Gawande is about to set another trend...