Elementary school was a tough time for me. I struggled in almost every subject and was often pulled out of class for extra one-on-one attention. I was always the quiet kid in the back of the class, dreading that inevitable moment when I knew I was going to be called on to answer a question.
I was recently sent soaring back to the days of my youth when I participated in the Flip the Clinic Summit. The event is an open experiment that seeks to transform the patient-clinician experience, with the ultimate goal of improving the delivery of health care. The Summit brought together 12 teams, from all different areas of health care, for three intensive days of creative thinking, problem solving, and uncovering opportunities for change. As a late addition, I was assigned blindly to a team and a topic, and I was really nervous.
At CCMU, we believe strongly in having the right people at the table in order to drive change in our health care system. All of the stakeholders need to have a seat, and everyone’s view is important—especially those with lived experiences. However, it can be challenging to facilitate that, even with a lot of time and preparation, both of which my Flip the Clinic team was short on. Our team was tackling asthma in a school setting, but we didn’t have a pediatric pulmonologist, a school nurse, or any patients or parents with us. Instead, we had expertise in technology, entrepreneurship, health equity, and public health. After the first day I realized that we were going to be missing many key voices in our conversation.
Several teams did have transformative experiences. Teams who brought patients, parents, front desk staff, and doctors had all the right people to tackle a tough issue. The team from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital came with a goal to improve the transition between pediatric and adult care for patients with a chronic condition. A patient with lupus and the mother of a child with cystic fibrosis weren’t just included in their work, but played a leadership role, and together they developed a plan for child empowerment and transition navigators with a lot of promise.
While it was great to see other teams succeeding, it didn’t change the fact that our team was struggling. That afternoon, the event facilitator asked us an important question: “What do you need to let go of in order to reach your goal?” At that moment, I realized I needed to let go of who was missing from our team. Maybe we weren’t going to cure pediatric asthma, but we could still find value in this process. There will be times it’s just not possible to have all the right people at the table, but does that mean you shouldn’t act? Waiting for the perfect circumstances might mean waiting forever. Sometimes we need to make something happen right now, even if it’s just a small step forward.
So that’s what we decided to do. We identified a small change, within our scope of understanding and ability, which had potential to improve communication between providers and schools about children’s health needs. Our “flip”—digitizing kids’ Asthma Care Plans and creating an electronic link between schools and pediatricians—isn’t groundbreaking, and may or may not be put into action, but it is a good idea. And, if nothing else, the experience had me out of my element and forced some creative thinking and problem solving. Certainly we are more successful when we commit to collaborative, inclusive change efforts, but when that’s not an option, I hope I’ll raise my hand and volunteer to help anyway.