I recently returned from two energizing days with 60 senior leaders of HealthInsight and Qualis Health in Seattle. It reminded me of cousin camps in our family -- the cousins would get together from across the country to play and have fun. You would think they lived just down the street from each other all year round. They picked up where they left off even if it had been several years since they last saw each other.
We liked each other. And we liked our work. One of my table mates was an experienced internal medicine physician and information technology expert who enjoys teaching clinicians how to apply Lean improvement methods to simplify workflow and restore joy in work. Another was a social worker who loves her work helping her colleagues comply with contracts. I loved her loud whistles that brought our rowdy crowd to attention after breaks. And she gladly offered to teach me how she does it.
We can forget what it’s like for those who are not so connected. Burned out clinicians who have become estranged from their patients because they are overwhelmed with non-clinical administrative tasks that fill their days. Lonely, socially isolated patients who have lost their will to live. Colleagues swamped with deliverables or reporting deadlines who get distracted from the purpose of the work we do.
Like our customers, we need to keep the trains running on time while we plan where to lay new tracks. The caring professionals we serve need to keep their businesses complying with ever-changing expectations while developing relationships with their patients that build loyalty and trust, which will help them meet their patients’ future needs.
Work monetization, self-absorption and distancing technologies are replacing human relationships with electronic health records, text messages and ever more screen time. As our society expects more immediate gratification from increasing social media connections to strangers, we get less.
Teenagers are spending more time alone with their digital screens. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media are 27 percent more likely to suffer from depression, according to a recent study conducted by Jean M. Twenge, author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us.”
Suicide rates are now at a 30-year high and the percent of Americans who say they are often lonely has doubled since the 1980s. Former Surgeon Gen. Vivek Murthy summarized his experience in an article in September in The Harvard Business Review: “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.”
The truth is, personal caring relationships are the most valuable and value-creating resource of any society. They are regenerative.
We share honorable callings with the caring professionals we serve. Restoring joy relates to restoring the purpose in our work -- compassionate therapeutic alliances improving health and well-being.
When I got home I had a message from my colleague and table mate asking me to let her know when I learned to whistle loud. I let her know I am still practicing but I will call her as soon as I succeed.