What's Humility Got to Do with It?

Added on Sep 25, 2015

The lexicon of health care is changing. Where health systems used to talk about maximizing volume, they now talk about optimizing value. Decisions that were once made primarily by physicians are now made by teams, and physician-centered cultures have been replaced with those centered around patients.

Words such as compassion, connection, suffering and empathy are becoming more familiar in discussions of processes, strategies and tactics, while detached transgressions (“the chest pain in the waiting room” or “the knee surgery in room 6”) are, thankfully, diminishing.

Driven in part by the paradigm shift in health care reimbursement, these changes also reflect a return to the humanity of medicine.

And here is where humility comes in. At the physician level, humility is the core value that enables doctors to do all of the above: to relate to patients as individuals, empathize with their suffering and partner with them to alleviate it. Practicing humility means checking egos at the door, engaging in continuous self-evaluation, recognizing areas in need of improvement and working as part of a team to improve them.

And that’s just the beginning. To succeed in today’s rapidly changing health care landscape, organizations must also support a culture of humility, and it should flow from the top down, according to Paul B. Hofmann, president of Hofmann Healthcare Group, and Dr. Gary Yates, managing partner, HPI division of Press Ganey.

“Humility has a profound influence on an institution’s culture,” the two wrote in a recent blog post for H&HN Daily. In fact, having an exceptionally humble leadership team is what sets consistently high-performing health systems and hospitals apart from the pack.

“Legitimate progress and achievements should be enthusiastically celebrated; but everyone knows that patient harm, for example, can only be avoided by constant vigilance and adherence to well-developed policies and procedures,” the authors stressed. “Invariably, every health care facility has eloquent vision, mission and value statements; but they are meaningless if there is a disconnect between their content and the reality as evidenced by the provision of high-quality patient care on a daily basis.”

Just as individual humility is grounded in self-awareness and acceptance of the reality that there is always room for self-improvement, organizational humility is driven by leaders who are comfortable with the often challenging process of looking inward, rather than resting on an organization’s laurels.

“Accelerating institutional excellence, when much success has already has been achieved, depends on leaders who are exceptional role models, relentless in pursuing even greater benefits for their patients, staff and communities,” Dr. Hofmann and Dr. Yates wrote.

To that end, humility has everything to do with it.