Hospitals are all about People’s Skills

skill-setsI have rarely come across an industry, which requires a range of skills, which are wider than what one sees in the people, who work in hospitals. A hospital actually is an amazing aggregation of skills and talent, which one would hardly see in any other human enterprise.

Among the medical folks, there are doctors who are hugely knowledgeable, highly educated and supremely skilled in the art and science of medicine, there are nurses and paramedics, who symbolise compassion and care and there are support folks who provide critical support for running the medical function in the hospital.

Amongst the managerial teams, there are managers who handle the front office and interact with patients and their attendants. They are the face of the hospital, well trained, well groomed very presentable folks, who help put patients at their attendants at ease. They usually have very good communication skills, are people with immense patience and a sunny optimistic disposition.

A hospital also needs a lot of technical support and thus you find high tech bio medical engineers, who ensure that all the equipment in the hospital works flawlessly. Imagine what can happen if an equipment in the OR or in the ICU malfunctions at a critical moment. Much like doctors, their role requires quick thinking, complete mastery of  technical matters and planning for any eventuality.  Most bio medical engineers are rarely seen and heard in the hospital but behind the scenes they control the levers of the hospital.

These days a modern hospital runs on state of the art software, which connects every hospital function. A doctor can not write his notes or ask for medicines till the orders have been punched in the Hospital Information System (HIS). The nurses can not dispense medicines unless requisitioned through the HIS. A patient can not be admitted or treated unless the relevant files and records have been created in the HIS. While most hospitals do have a back-up manual system, it is rarely used largely because an IT team employed by the hospital ensures that the HIS is rarely down. These people are often quintessential techies, with very sound knowledge of hospital systems and processes.

At a 180 degrees of separation from these folks are people who look after functions such as Food & Beverages, Housekeeping and Security. They are all trained individuals as much an expert in their areas as any techie. They interact with patients and their attendants and hence also have superb skills in handling patient grievances. 

While all of those mentioned above contribute towards keeping the hospital humming, another set of people are those who manage the business side of things and have a completely different set of skills. These include the sales and marketing folks, who represent the hospital to an external environment, purchase managers and store keepers, who ensure that the hospital is well stocked with all the essential supplies and the finance guys, who keep an eye on how the money is being spent. People in all these functions have unique strengths. The finance guys are very good with numbers, the sales people drive innovation and have good communication skills and the purchase folks have tremendous negotiation skills and an uncanny smell for a deal.

A good hospital will always have good Human Resources and training personnel. They are the ones who ensure harmonious working relationships amongst a very varied and highly skilled workforce. They make the rules, which govern the conduct of individuals in the hospital, play a critial role in rewards and recognition systems, act as agony aunts and handle conflicts. To my mind the most important skill they bring to the table is an ability to get on with people, understand differing point of views and manage aspirations of a very diverse bunch of people. 

If I was to select two critical skills, which an individual who aspires to work in a hospital must possess it has to be compassion and communication skills. Anyone, who works in a hospital must have loads of compassion towards fellow human beings, an innate ability to see things from the patients perspective and take decisions with empathy and  with an utmost regard for the plight of the patients. The ability to communicate well with language or through a meaningful silence or by just a touch, would be a close second. Be it a doctor, a front office manager or a sales person the ability to communicate the right thing at the right time to the right person is an immensely valuable gift.

Pic courtesy

The Hospitalphobe

doctorMy wife is one of the many people I know who have a mortal fear of hospitals. While I spent many hours happily at the hospitals I worked for, my wife would never venture near them. In fact, she would often wonder how could I spend so much time at the hospitals, particularly when I am not even a doctor. Many of my friends would also come out with similar barbs about my unlikely life in the hospitals. This made me wonder about this curious species that I will call the Hospitalphobe.

The Hospitalphobe is the one who is terrified by all things medical. Be it the doctors in their pristine aprons, the equipment, the sight of people hooked up to IV lines, the ICU, and the fear of fears the OR.

I believe the fear of hospitals in the hospitalphobe largely emanates from losing control. In hospitals, an individual loses his identity, is at the beck and command of doctors and nurses, has little choice but to comply with the instructions, subject oneself to what many would consider severe indignities and still be very grateful for it all.

Then there is the uncertainty of it all. There is nothing in a hospital, which can be called a ‘certain’ outcome. Even the most simple and minor procedure carry a risk. The hospitalphobes are acutely aware of these risks and worry endlessly about even a prick. My wife would certainly fall in this category.

Hospitals are also looked upon by the hospitalphobe as places full of infectious pathogens and they fear that by just breathing in the air they are exposing themselves to an unacceptably high risk of catching something. While, it is true that hospitals have a relatively higher concentration of microbes and what have you, I can easily vouch for them not bringing me to any grief ever. The hospitalphobe I know, would not agree.   Continue reading

Why Hospitals are not Transparent?

communicateAs a consumer of healthcare services and also as a keen observer of the drama that unfolds in a hospital everyday, I have often wondered at the extent of opacity that I see around me. A hospital is usually as transparent as a black hole. Ironically most hospital swear by the maxim of ‘complete transparency’. This is rarely true.

Try getting a straight answer from a hospital executive or a doctor and you will straightaway run into a wall.  They are just not programmed to answer straight. Many a times, I would accept that it may not be feasible or advisable for a doctor to be completely transparent. However, there are times when a doctor must look the patient in the eye and say as it is.

Delivering bad news is never easy. It takes a lot of character and compassion to tell another individual that he is terminally sick. However, not telling or beating around the bush, while doing so is far worse. Than there is the matter of giving hope to those diagnosed with a rare condition, telling them that, while they are gravely ill, they need to put up a fight and the doctors, the hospital and everybody else responsible for their care will walk with them every step of the way.  I would like to believe that the ability to communicate and connect with the patients is a wonderful gift to have and it makes for some very happy patients.   Continue reading

When Things Go Wrong in a Hospital

Sudhir Sharma, 58  was wheeled into the operating room early in the morning for what looked like a routine bypass surgery. The surgeon Dr. Roop Singh met his worrying friends and relatives, reassured them that he does not anticipate any complications and hopefully he will be done in 4 hours. The doctor seemed to be in good spirits and quite confident of the outcome.  

The relatives and friends of Mr. Sharma repaired to the Subway joint in the hospital for a quick breakfast and the morning coffee. The mood was hopeful and upbeat.

Not known to them things in the OR had gone horribly wrong. As Mr. Sharma was being put on a heart lung machine, disaster struck. A terrible mistake was made. Mr. Sharma’s aorta was connected with the line supplying oxygen from the machine. The mistake was discovered immediately and the team tried to revive Mr. Sharma,  but by then it was too late. Everyone in the team was shattered and were in a state of shock. One small terrible mistake had cost Mr. Sharma his life.   Continue reading