‘It’s easier to scrape egg off your face than it is to get splinters out of your backside’
The headline is an old Scottish saying I’m very fond of. It basically means get off the fence – it’s always better to investigate things than it is to dismiss them out of hand.
I was reminded of this old adage recently when an NHS customer of mine came back to me almost instantly after hearing a project proposal and said: “That’s not going to be of any interest to us.”
It was a sound proposal with good evidence behind it that gave them the opportunity to significantly reduce workload. Also behind it were a number of reference sites that we could show them from within my NHS client base.
But – literally within 15 minutes of the very brief email going in – I got a very polite ‘thanks but no thanks’. I was stunned by that reply. And it led me to a fundamental question – just how inquisitive are people?
How inquisitive are you?
Are you truly 100% happy with how things are going?
In my work, I very rarely turn down an opportunity to speak to people, especially if I think a conversation is going to have an impact. If I get an approach from a medical technology, pharmaceutical or devices company with ideas or if they’re struggling with a project, I’ll always go in and have a look.
At my diagnostic company, I get approached all the time about selecting new equipment, different ways of working and things that we could do or implement and I always find the time to investigate. That’s because I’m never 100% happy with my present outcomes. So to turn down the opportunity to explore an idea or a possible project, I would have to be completely satisfied that things could not improve.
In terms of how this applies to the NHS – most of the NHS is drowning in workload. Too much to do, not enough people to meet that demand. This creates a need to innovate and work in different ways.
So when I’m working with the NHS and someone says to me: “I haven’t got the time, I’m too busy, now’s not the right time,” I go back with: “There’ll never be a right time, because you’ll always be too busy.”
They have to realise that if they turn down an opportunity to innovate, then they have to be completely happy in their own head that the current situation cannot be improved upon. They must be 100% happy with their current workload, the make-up of the staff in their team, the number of referrals and appointments, the number of hospital admissions and the patient outcomes.
No need to panic – phase it in
They’re never going to be completely happy with all those things, so the next thing is working out how to find a small amount of time – even 10/15 minutes – to step back and have a think about what could be done differently.
And then, don’t sit on the fence, actually make a decision and go for it. That’s pretty much where I always am – I never think things are as good as they are going to get, I’m always prepared to go and look.
Then it’s about phasing in a new way of working. After all, you can’t just drop one thing and pick up something brand new in the NHS, there’s too much pressure. I had a customer recently where we ran an audit on a particular project and it delivered back 478 patients.
Their fear was how they were going to cope with that many people, it looked like far too much for them to handle. But I was thinking in terms of phasing – how could we make the changes that had to be made over a period of time? I broke it down to 48 weeks in the year, roughly 10 patients a week.
And then we asked who else in the practice might be interested in supporting us. Straight away we identified two other people. So suddenly, each of them is looking at three patients a week to review. They then felt able to cope with the workload.
OK, it will take them the best part of a year to fully implement those changes. But as they pointed out themselves, every week ten patients are reviewed, which means ten patients are on the path to a better outcome, potentially reducing appointments, referrals, admissions and workload.
Listening and questioning is key to resolving the problem
So my message very strongly is, in life, you have to be inquisitive. We’re all always going to be busy. But go and find that little bit of headspace and protected time that enables you to explore what the alternative might be.
I’m very happy to hold my hand up and say that 90% of the time, I’ll go and explore these ideas and nothing comes of them. But that’s so worth it for the 10% of the time where we develop a new idea, use new kit and equipment, create new pathways or devise new ways of working. Because they improve the patient outcome and help ease the workload burden at busy GP surgeries and hospital outpatient departments. Every project I’m working on right now within my NHS client base has that at the core.
To me, it just makes no sense to turn down the opportunity to explore a potentially better way of doing things and then complaining about your workload and the fact you’re not coping. The key is creating that little bit of space to go and turn over every boulder.
So roll over all the boulders and see what’s underneath – because there are loads of projects out there being worked on right now that are achieving fantastic outcomes because someone found 15 minutes to listen to a good idea.
Scott McKenzie helps pharmaceutical, medical technology and device firms increase revenue by getting their products and services in front of the right NHS decision makers. If you want to get your products fully embedded into treatment pathways we can help you. We’ve doubled revenue for our clients and can share these processes with you too.