Lessons for Health Care from Home Renovation

My mother thinks I missed my calling, and my father can’t quite believe the things I actually take on. It’s my passion outside of work – my hidden talent. It all has to do with neglected houses and my desire to make them shine again. I get so much enjoyment and fulfillment out of taking a real “handywoman special” and turning it into something so improved that it isn’t recognizable (with help from my spouse, of course). I once thought this activity to be wildly different from my professional career in quality improvement, but upon examination it is quite similar.

Buying a run-down property takes vision. You have to look past the cracked walls, orange shag carpet and outdated kitchen, and create an image of a new home. Some (typically my husband) may not see the future state as I do, so I have to sell my vision.

Quality improvement initiatives require vision, too. Like dilapidated houses, there are so many processes in health care facilities that could be improved. We know what they are; they usually have been issues for a quite a while. They go unaddressed until someone comes along with a vision for a better future state and generates enthusiasm by selling that vision to others.

In home renovation, the fun begins after you buy the dilapidated structure and are unlocking the door. Enthusiasm is high; you can’t wait to roll up your sleeves and get in to start improving. Soon, you start to encounter unexpected issues such as rotted floors under that orange shag carpet. You end up addressing more issues than originally expected. The progress slows a little, but you stick to your vision and push forward.

In health care, you’ve sold your vision and your quality improvement team is chartered. You hold your first meeting. Everyone is hyped to make changes and finally address this issue once and for all. The team rolls up its collective sleeves and gets to work. You soon discover the process is more complex than expected. You’re slowed due to garnering buy-in from departments you didn’t even realize were a part of the process. But you have a vision and you push forward.

In home renovation, you’ve been working on your property for quite some time now. You begin to focus on all the things that still need to be fixed or updated, and you’re beginning to doubt the prudence of your purchase. You’re feeling overwhelmed, and the vision is fading fast. This is where you pause and pull out the pictures of the property when it was first purchased. You see the tremendous amount of progress that has been made and you take time to celebrate, even though the ultimate vision has yet to be realized. You go back to work on the property with renewed enthusiasm.

In health care, your team has been meeting for what seems like forever. Progress is slow, and some team members begin to miss meetings. You begin to question whether this process will ever be improved. The vision is fading. As the team leader, you realize how necessary it is to pause, see where progress has been achieved and celebrate accomplishments with the team.

In rehabbing properties, sometimes you need a break to reinvigorate. This works for health care teams, too. You don’t abandon the project; you just take a short hiatus. It does wonders to re-energize, refocus, and then drive forward again toward the vision.

In both worlds, sometimes you need to call in experts to help with an aspect of the project. Know when you’re in over your head and don’t be ashamed to get help to achieve the vision.

It’s true that health care is vastly more complex than home renovation, and sometimes the complexity seems overwhelming. I think it helps make it less daunting to think about a care process as an older home, one needing group ownership, hard work and tender loving care to transform it into something that really works for everyone.

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