Why I believe that new solutions won't come from healthcare professionals
Let’s face it: it has been at least 17 years, since the publishing of IOM’s To Err is Human, that we have been discussing patient safety. Or the lack of it.
Countless conferences, many specialists, innumerous protocols, exhaustive trainings, so on and so forth. The result achieved is satisfactory, but not even close to all efforts made.
What are the missing pieces of this complex puzzle?
I really believe that new (and big) solutions will come from users and not healthcare professionals. It is the opposite way from how we have been working so far. Why do I believe in it? Well, before I discuss a little more about it, I will tell you one personal story.
A few years ago I bought a portable air conditioner. It does its job, but has a detail that really bothers me: the internal water tank.
The condensed air accumulates in the small reservoir which must be emptied from time to time. This is done through a drain valve, represented in Figure I below:
The problem is that even if the tank is not full, usually it leaks. This is a big problem when the floor is laminated.
In fact, once I measured and removed almost half a liter of water from the reservoir! Oh yes, another important detail: it is heavy. I believe around 70Lbs. I’m not sure if I’m right but that’s how it feels like.
Ok, it is uncomfortable to drain the water, so what? I’ll explain.
With this leak problem, to not screw up the floor, I have to carry the weight, literally, to the nearest drain that is in my bathroom.
Talking with a friend who also has a similar device, he told me he had attached a hose at the drain valve. I found it a clever idea and did the same:
It partially solved my problem because now I just needed to carry the weight half way.
And everything was fairly well! Until winter came and I was testing the heating mode. For some reason I cannot explain, the tank filled much faster! And with a full tank, the air conditioner stops working and signals that the tank needs to be emptied.
The problem is that I used to fall asleep and wake up in the middle of the night shaking and with the air conditioner beeping incessantly! Every single day.
Let’s be sincere, there is no living soul on this planet who is willing to empty the tank in the middle of the night.
Then one day while I was cooking, I hit the eye on the wine vacuum pump. A lamp lit instantly: Eureka!! I connected the hose into an empty bottle and made another hole for the pump. It was something like this:
It may not be the ideal solution but for me it was a damn great solution because now I just need to pump a few times so the water is automatically sucked into the bottle! I showed the picture of my prototype to that friend who is already trying to do the same.
In fact, I can even imagine people working on this prototype. Improving it. I can see the motorized version!
I’m not an engineer and still found a solution for my problem. Why? Because I am a user and I feel the pain of a product that could be truly improved.
Similarly, I believe that great solutions will come from healthcare users. Why? Because they feel the day-to-day pain. My vision as a doctor is totally different from a patient who stayed 20 days at my hospital.
There is no point if I take a whole afternoon to think about new solutions for rheumatoid arthritis, for example. I may even have some ideas but only those who live with pain and with daily limitations know what bothers them the most.
In “The Patient Will See You Know”, author Eric Topol says that new technologies will revolutionize medicine and allow patients to be more active in their care. The easy access to a large volume of information will democratize knowledge.
This is already a reality. See, for example, the story of Jack Andraka: a 16-year-old student who created a new diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer. According to him, 168 times faster, 26,000 times cheaper and 400 times more sensitive than the current standard!
What is his motivation? A personal story. A close family friend who was like an uncle to him, died due to this disease. You can see the whole story here:
People with health problems have the time, resources and sufficient motivation to seek solutions. Variables that health professionals do not necessarily have.
That’s why I really believe in a collaborative culture between all parties. And because I believe in it so hard, I found a lot of people who love working with patient safety and share the same dream. The result is the Brazilian Patient Safety Foundation.
The main objective of the Foundation is to democratize knowledge and redeem this collaborative culture. After all, whether you are a health professional or not, we will all be users of the health system one day. Inevitably.
And if this system is flawed, exposing patients to unnecessary errors, it is flawed for anyone.
So let’s hope for new challenges and many solutions!!