Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Hand Washing compliance 100%

Hand hygiene 100% compliance at Ellis Hospitals. How did they do that?

Mary Ellen Crittenden, Vice President of Quality at Ellis told us that their board had a 'zero tolerance policy' for non-compliance.

They had a huge focus on clinician buy in and cultural issues developed over many months. They had 'secret shoppers' watching people and built it up the tempo gradually to a stage where they then announced a 'three strikes and you are out' policy.

If some one did not wash their hands:

first time - they were sent home with pay
second time - they were sent home without pay
third time - they were sent home and asked not to come back i.e. sacked

As an aside they had the same policy for their employed and visiting doctors, apparently they did not have to sack any of their more than 1000 doctors

Of course not all their deployments to improve quality were this harshly enforced.
Based on similar attitudes and healthcare lean methodology they have also achieved

495 continuous days without a single central line infection
0 - ZERO infections for hip surgery in whole of 2010 and till April 2011

They are looking forward to many other low or zeros soon (colonic surgery, caesarean sections, etc)

Ellis Hospital system in New York ( is not exactly Mayo or Johns Hopkins but they have achieved great results.

When will we see this here at our work place? Most of us sooner or later are likely to end up as a patient in our local hospitals; well, it could happen tomorrow. We have to get it sorted before we occupy one of these beds!

The proven methods are available; we can do it if we want.


PS: As recalled from what was heard at a conference in 2011

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Homeostasis: The principle behind resistance to change. Doctors know all about it.

Homeostasis: The principle behind resistance to change. Doctors know all about it.

A software demo

In a session with a very enthusiastic innovator/early adopter group of people passionate about improvement; my own relationship with the group is they trust me but also find me intriguing; I offered the participants a particular software; the features of the software are as follows:

1) it was from a different producer and hence at a user level it was different (but not greatly different) from what they essentially use every day
2) it was at least 4 times quicker to switch on (pressing the button to start working with it) - this was proven to the group right in front of their eyes. It was also much quicker to shut down.
3) it does everything that their existing software does and it does more (with a little effort it will also run their existing software)
4) it is very stable - almost never crashes
5) it never gets a virus (not known so far in common use at least)
6) it is completely free (compared to £70 to £250 one off costs associated with their existing software)

The group consisted of 11 people. One person in the group who was already using it and vouched strongly for it.

Nobody (10 out of 10) said they would change to it; one person out of 10 said in a very tentative and cautious manner 'I would try it'. I have since tried with another group of nine people where again only one person said 'I will try it out'. This was the situation for a proven idea/software introduced by a 'trusted' peer.

Change management

Change management is a huge challenge. It is not just in the NHS alone (or may be it is) where we love or we may not love but we will continue to do things that are slow, unstable, complication prone and costly just because we are familiar with it (as an aside, in the NHS anyone who is suspected of doing even mildly unfamiliar things will be accused of behaving in a risky way). In this example of mine, it was only software - its kind of okay. Do we do this in our clinical practice? Though all of us would deny that, there is enough evidence that we show such unnecessarily resistant behaviour and very importantly we are actively supported in such behaviour by some of our authority holders.

There are specific ways of making changes happen and proven methods in healthcare are already available. Many of us are working on it. However, only when 8 out 10 people will be willing to hear, try and change easily for the purpose of improving the safety and quality we provide will be the day where we find Success in Healthcare!!

Change Management and Homeostasis

The origins of this behaviour is far deeper than we think. Most clinicians will be familiar with the concept of homeostasis; human bodies are created to 'maintain' a stable environment for themselves. If things are not working, the body restores it to get back to its previous normality. It is possible to achieve a new/different level of 'normality' (whether it is positive e.g. body building or negative e.g. dietary related obesity) even when there is nothing broken/ill, but for that the mind and body needs to put in specific additional effort - most of the time our mind and/or body does nothing of that kind (except of course in the case of children where there is a continuous effort voluntary and involuntary to achieve an improved status till they get to be adults). Further interestingly it is possible to achieve a newer level of normality on the negative side with not much effort at all but any positive change needs focused prolonged effort (refer back to the examples of obesity versus body building); to get unfit does not need effort, to get fit we need to work very hard.

In our work life, we display similar individual and organisational behaviours. We get to work with an explicit intention of doing a 'normal' days work. Fire-fighting - looking for things that are broken so badly that it will stop us from functioning and restore it to functional levels - we do that. We easily slip into bad habits and behaviours (e.g. employing people to run a bad process rather than redesigning the process) - we do that.

Only some of us take positive efforts to make changes to improve the service. There could be problems in that. Imagine this scenario - if our hospital was the equivalent of a relatively unhealthy human body and one particular organ, say the right arm decided to improve itself by getting fit and muscular - we will have an unfit obese hospital with a well developed strong muscular right arm. Now, is that normal or beautiful? Neither. So the right arm gives up sooner or later surely encouraged by the rest of the body which wants the right arm to 'fit in' with the majority.

How to resolve this issue?

Obviously if you are running an organisation and want to improve it you will be uncomfortable accepting a worsening scenario; justifying it by some logical argument about homeostasis would sound dubious. You may want to try to meaningfully measure the performance of various parts of your organisation and present it transparently. No one likes to be part of a worsening performance graph.

If there is then a desire to go ahead and do something to improve the situation you could refer to ; try to answer my four fundamental questions with a 'Yes'.


Fixing a big bleeding artery is probably a shade easier than change management but managing change is where the really interesting challenges are.

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NB: I was comparing Ubuntu (Linux based) operating system versus Microsoft Vista as exists in my laptop computer on a dual boot. For personal use, I have been mostly using Ubuntu since January 2011 and have found it very good. Would you try it?

PS: I have nothing against Microsoft which has served me well over many years. As of date I have no vested interest in MS or Ubuntu or in any other software company.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


'Complication' is such a sanitised word. When doctors and nurses speak about complications the language is purely technical, distant and mostly third party. When the complication comes true, it is of course none of those, it is very personal; physically and emotionally hurtful with huge trauma to to the sufferers and their families, in so many ways that we can never understand or even describe.
The following is about a series of extraordinary real life happenings that relates to a normal British person from Portsmouth and his family. The words are a cut and paste from the court judgement with a few minor changes to help normal reading.
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  • The patient was aged 39. His father had for several years been undergoing kidney dialysis treatment and was suffering from renal failure. The patient was anxious to give his father the opportunity of a better quality of life in his well earned retirement by donating his own right kidney, thus sparing his father further dialysis treatment. The operation was performed on 26th February 2008. The hospital admits that the operation was performed negligently, and to a degree recklessly. There are proceedings before the General Medical Council against the surgeon in question.
  • The consequences of the hospital's negligence have been catastrophic for the patient and his family: physically, psychologically, emotionally and financially. Although the patient's right kidney was successfully removed and transplanted, the patient suffered irreversible failure of the left kidney. In fact he should never have been advised to undergo the operation at all given the grave dangers involved. That negligent advice was compounded by serial mistakes during the operation itself. The patient's life was saved only after many hours on the operating table during which he received over 100 units of blood and fluid transfusions.
  • During the course of the operation the patient suffered further complications which have had far reaching consequences: a minor myocardial infarction; ischaemic damage to the bundle of nerves known as the lumbo-sacral plexus, which supply the right leg and foot; a thrombosis of the inferior vena cava.
  • The patient was left in total renal failure. He was in hospital for nearly two months, during which he started to receive haemodialysis. He developed a serious drug induced confusional disorder. There were further re-admissions to hospital in March and April 2008, following which he received dialysis treatment three times a week as an outpatient for a year. This treatment affected him profoundly. He became severely depressed, frequently contemplating suicide. He contracted serious infections, one of which necessitated a further admission to hospital for four days in October 2008.
  • The patient's own act of altruism and family devotion in donating a kidney to his father, which cost him so dear, was reciprocated by the patient's sister. With the same outstanding altruism and family devotion she in turn donated a kidney to the patient, at very considerable psychological and emotional cost. That operation, performed on 27th March 2009, was successful. It released the patient from an indefinite regime of dialysis. However, he lives with the constant fear that his body will reject the kidney and it is common ground that when he reaches his early sixties that kidney will require replacement. This uncertainty, and his experiences generally, have left him with an understandable obsession about his health.
  • Unfortunately a recurrent infection was imported with his sister's kidney, cytomegalovirus viraemia (CMV). This is a constant source of worry. So is his blood creatinine level which, if raised, can be a sign of kidney rejection.
  • The renal failure the patient suffered increases significantly the risk that he will suffer from ischaemic heart disease and a stroke. Consequently he adopts a very careful lifestyle and diet. He has had high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels which cause him constant worry. The immuno-suppressant drugs he takes, in particular to control the CMV, greatly increase the risk of his developing other debilitating and life threatening conditions. The consequence is that he has become fastidious to the point of obsessional about personal and general hygiene, which impacts upon the whole family. He can be irritable and overbearing. He is prone to bouts of weeping.
  • There are further serious physical consequences. The nerve damage suffered during the negligent operation has resulted in altered sensation below the right knee. There is hyper-sensitivity, pain and loss of sensation in various parts of the right foot, and clawing of the first and second toes. He has had surgery on the first toe. Further surgery had been planned to straighten and fuse the toes but this drastic measure may be avoided by regular injection of botulinum toxin for life. The issue surrounding this problem with his foot has a bearing on his residual earning capacity. Currently he is unable to run, and walking on uneven ground and stairs presents some difficulty.
  • The patient has also been much distressed by urinary difficulties. For a time self- catheterisation was attempted. He found it a dreadful experience. Urinary frequency bedevils his daily life, and results in broken nights for him and for his wife.
  • The medication he takes has had unpleasant side-effects including the profuse growth of unwanted body hair, the development of skin acneiform lesions and the deposit of facial and abdominal fat. His inability to exercise has also led to undesirable weight gain. Prior to the operation, the patient was a healthy, fit and active 35 year old man. He took great pride in his health and fitness, running several kilometres each morning to set himself up for the working day. He had enormous energy. He was cheerful, optimistic and extrovert.
  • Now the picture is very different. At the age of 39 his daily life revolves around his health worries. He is constantly fearful of infection or changes which may increase the risk of the kidney being rejected. Any venturing from the strictly enforced hygiene of the home is fraught with anxiety. He lives with the certain knowledge that the kidney will require replacement by the time he reaches the age of 61 and that this will be preceded by symptoms of progressive renal failure. It is agreed that his life expectancy has been reduced by 10 years.
  • The patient's wife says that the patient is a shadow of his former self. He is lacking in energy. He is exhausted by 9 pm and generally has to be in bed by 10 pm. He is moody and irritable. Their marriage, though very strong, is constantly under strain. The children have been affected and distressed by their father's condition and behaviour and he has bridges to build there.
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The above example was of course extraordinary, further the issue reached the court of law otherwise we would not have heard it in such a profound and full sense. It might have reached us through the press in which case we would have discounted it for journalistic embellishment. In reality most if not every healthcare related 'complication' has impacts on patients' lives which are significant but we will never hear about it.
Perhaps it is time to start describing some of the possible known effects of complications on patient's lives should be described in a way that it really affects patients lives. Let me explain. Do you think the hospitals, doctors or nurses when explaining or consenting patients for surgery ever tell them 'if you had one of the severe complications your marriage could be constantly under strain; your children could be affected and distressed by your condition and behaviour and your may need bridges to be built with them as a result''?
For instance When we talk about surgery on blood vessels in the limb we mention 'amputation' as a possibility. Does that really describe anything to a patient who has never experienced or seen amputation before? Perhaps we ought to tell them how in the initial days even to move from side to side in a bed they would need support, their entire body will need to put in daily heroic effort to cope, they will not be able to do any sort of work for many months, if everything goes well it will hurt during wound healing, during dressing change, during physio, during limb fitting, when using the limb. When goes wrong it will hurt more, more often and for longer – if it goes wrong even more it will hurt every day of their lives (phantom limb pain). They will need to know that the pain will need strong pain killers, strong pain killers will cause constipation, constipation could cause fissure which will hurt even more. They would need to know that if the wound breaks down their raw cut bone could stick out. Well, even after these descriptions we haven’t even made a start on the long list and impacts in a proper way!! These are only physical.
Perhaps we need to tell them that they may not be able to drive a normal car; the pain could drive them to become an alcoholic if they are lucky and a drug addict if they are unlucky. Perhaps they need to know that their family and friends will provide sympathy which the patient could misinterpret and end up feeling patronised resulting in phenomenally strained relationships all around.
God help us avoid complications.
Complications are true complications only when every effort at our command is made to avoid them from happening and yet they happened, otherwise it cannot be called a complication; it is called harm. As an illustration, if a patient developed deep vein thrombosis due to omitted drug thromboprophylaxis, poor mobilisation, poor hydration or pelvic injury at surgery that DVT is healthcare caused harm; similarly if a spinal or epidural catheter was removed without regard to when chemical thromboprophylaxis was given and the patient developed spinal cord problems, that would be harm caused by heal. DVT prevention is an easy example, there are thousands of other ways that healthcare's omissions, commissions and disagreements hurt patients; they can no longer be euphemistically called complications any longer.
Here is something uncomfortable, a number of these problems happen because of us (organisation or individuals) though we are often unable to even recognise that.
Once again, the impacts of complications on peoples lives is something that healthcare professionals would not be able to even begin to understand, or describe. There are specific tried and tested methods to avoid harm or to reduce them to their minimum possible. Most healthcare providers do not have to do world beating cutting edge stuff, they only have to put in some effort to just avoid harm in healthcare. If it was done that would count as Success in Healthcare.

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