I realized a few months into blogging that nobody seemed to notice or care how frequently or regularly I posted. The good news was, people seemed to notice when I wrote a post, but did not notice when I did not – very comforting! For those keeping score, my last post was March 31st. On April 1st I left home at 4:15am to be admitted to the Fuqua Heart Center at Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital. At 7:30am I entered the OR to undergo Open Heart Surgery (quintuple bypass). I guess that gave me a little air cover for a couple of weeks to take time off from blogging!
To be honest, while I now know far more about open heart surgery than I ever cared to, I still know virtually nothing. I’m pretty squeamish about such things – whether or not I’m the subject or simply an observer. But some things were quite apparent from my recent experience, and I found myself drawing lessons from them – perhaps by way of making sense of what was going on and what I was feeling, perhaps as a self-distraction from the reality of my situation – but also because I’m an inveterate learner. I love real life analogies!
The Power of Clear, Consistent Communications
First, let me say that in researching the Fuqua Heart Center and my designated surgeon, I discovered that they are ranked in the top 5% of such facilities in the US – a very comforting thought. (By the way, I went from experiencing mild chest discomfort during exercise to taking a treadmill stress test to undergoing a cardio catheterization to going under the knife over about a 2 week period, so thankfully, there was not too much time to do the research or fret about my situation!)
First, I noticed that each and every interaction with everyone I came in contact with at the hospital (during the catheterization procedure, several other diagnostics including X-Rays, Carotid Doppler Ultrasound and more blood samples and needle pricks than a human should have to endure!) followed a very predictable and consistent pattern:
- Whoever was dealing with me would introduce themselves by name and describe their role.
- I’d be asked my name and date of birth.
- They would scan my wristband.
- I’d then be told in layman’s terms what was about to happen and why.
- I’d be asked if I understood and had any questions or concerns.
- The procedure would be checked while I was still at the testing station (e.g., was the X-Ray image clear).
- Typically, I’d be told the procedure has produced a good result and what next step to expect.
This pattern became a sort of underlying mantra to everything that happened. This was extremely helpful. First, the rhythm itself set expectations, and seeing those expectations consistently, rigorously met was confidence inspiring. Second, in each specific case, the calm, clear communication reduced the fear and anxiety. Even for the operation itself, following extensive preparation, several doctors, nurses and specialists came to the pre-op area and introduced themselves and their role. (It seemed like a cast of thousands!). Once I was wheeled into the OR, the rest of the team introduced themselves – the cast of thousands doubled in a heartbeat! (Excuse the pun!) I was reminded of the times my client’s business executives complain to me that any meeting with IT invariably involved a room full of IT specialists – leading the executive to speculate on why IT costs so much. I have to say, lying in the OR about to be put under for 5 hours of open heart surgery, cost and the size of the cast was the last thing on my mind!
I thought about my IT clients, and my experiences on the receiving end of help desks and support staff – more often than not being treated as an annoying bystander. “What are you doing to my PC?” I’d ask as the support tech would whiz through operating system settings, changing things in a seemingly random approach! “Don’t worry – you don’t need to know – let me get on with my job.” Under such circumstances, even if their ministrations solved the problem, I’d be uncomfortable, wondering what had they found and how had they fixed it? If it happened again, I’d be none the wiser. Plus, there was always that nagging doubt that whatever settings they’d changed had introduced some new problem to be subsequently uncovered!
Another simple trick used at Piedmont Hospital was the effective use of a whiteboard next to my bed. Understand that as a patient, you interact with many individual nurses and support staff over the course of a 5 or 6 day hospital stay. Two shifts per day, at least two types of nurse in regular attendance, plus specialists (endocrinologists, phlebotomists, etc.) It can be overwhelming to the poor patient trying to remember everyone’s name, let alone how to reach them. At Piedmont Hospital, there is a whiteboard next to the bed, and every new staff member, upon introducing themselves, would write their name, function and cell phone extension number on the white board. Again, it was not just that this was a thoughtful, helpful and comforting practice – it was the consistency with which it was done. Everyone had clearly been thoroughly trained!
Again, I thought about my IT business clients, and their common complaints about meetings with IT involving way too many IT people without any clear explanation of why each one was there. Certainly, IT organizations need to do a better job at streamlining the business-IT interface. But, cleaner, clearer introductions of the IT people and their roles in a meeting (in business understandable terms) would go a long way to managing expectations and increasing business understanding of and confidence in IT.
I’m very pleased to say that 18 days after surgery, I’m well into what is forecast to be a 6-week recovery period. I’m looking forward to reengaging with my clients – armed with a new set of pipes – and a renewed sensitivity to business-IT communications practices!