Michael Dowling: 3 most undervalued elements of care delivery

Understandably, all of us are constantly consumed by such pressing issues as our uncertain regulatory landscape, evolving reimbursement models and technological advancements, all of which have a significant impact on the way care is delivered and paid for.

Once in a while, however, we need to come up for air and take time to celebrate some of our many achievements as providers of care. We're in a people industry and the profound impact we have on people's lives on a daily basis cannot be overstated. With that in mind, I think all of us should take a collective bow for the many ways we have elevated the quality of care in this country over the past decade. Here are a few things to consider as we go about the business of leading our respective organizations:

1. Success. While some of the public criticism our healthcare delivery system has received in recent years is deserved, it's important for the morale and mental wellbeing of the nation's 18 million healthcare workers to appreciate how far our industry has advanced and the significant influence we have on the quality of life in this country.

Not only have there been groundbreaking advancements in medicine, but the way we have evolved our business on the administrative side has enabled health systems to integrate care across the continuum in ways that were previously unachievable. All of this progress has directly benefited the health and wellness of the patients we serve.

Certainly, all of us should continue to be advocates for change in our respective organizations, but on behalf of all healthcare stakeholders, I also advocate for greater optimism for what the future holds. There's no arguing that we still have a long way to go to make healthcare more efficient and effective, but we've made enormous strides in finding new cures and treatments for cancer, heart disease, stroke and other potentially deadly conditions, while also expanding access to care, restoring our patients' trust and delivering value.

2. Face-to-face contact. Telemedicine, augmented intelligence and machine learning are already impacting the future of healthcare, but these technologies should never replace the human touch – the face-to-face interactions between patients and caregivers.

When nurses, physicians and others who have day-to-day contact with patients and their loved ones walk into a room, they not only read the details of patients' illnesses or injuries, but take in the nuances of their individual circumstances and family dynamics. Surely, technology can help enhance the patient experience, but patients are complex human beings with feelings, questions and concerns who rely on well-trained, caring individuals to help them successfully navigate the healthcare experience. All of us must constantly remind ourselves that the most fundamental building block of healthcare is the people who deliver it.

3. First-line supervisors and middle management. Much has been written about the importance of clinicians and C-suite executives, but middle managers are an often-forgotten component of the healthcare team. These supervisors play an absolutely crucial role in day-to-day operations. Without good middle management, hospitals and health systems would be completely hamstrung, no matter how brilliant their senior leadership teams might be. For many front-line workers, supervisors represent the face of the organization, and in most cases, when employees quit their jobs, they quit because of their managers. Supervisors have a significant impact on the behavior of staff and the interplay between clinicians and patients, and though they greatly influence day-to-day operations, they are one of the most undervalued components of the complex healthcare delivery process.

Everyday heroes emerge from all levels of an organization. It's important for them to take pride in what we have achieved as an industry and in the individual contributions they have on the lives of countless patients and families.

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