Posted by: Tony Shannon | February 28, 2015

Change: Story #1: The Story of Self

Change: Story #1: The Story of Self

My first blog of 2015 mentioned a word that is key to all change – culture.

Cultural change is a challenging thing and yet if we examine history, there is a noticeable pattern across all human culture over countless generations, from tribes to chiefdoms to city states to modern nations; the power of a story.

Often, scientific training teaches us that facts come first and therefore ones initial reaction may be to dismiss the power of stories. They can’t be scientific; there may be few specifics, no hard numbers or evidence base involved. I have many years of scientific training yet I realised as important as a scientific discipline is, any medical doctor will be able to recount a “good clinical case” – an individual patient story – that had a very important influence on their medical training and education.
Certainly in the early part of my medical career I could not quite reconcile the power of these stories with the factual evidence base that we were trained to focus on and refer to. However as time progressed, I began to appreciate the real power in stories and what is also called “narrative” as an important element of the art and science of fields such as medicine or management. Clearly, there must be something about stories that we need to better understand.

So when I heard of a recent webinar by the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management on “Stories of Us: …. using public narrative to …. inspire change” I was keen to tune in. The series of webinars run by a medical colleague Dr Claire Marie Thomas (who did a great job) brought an approach to my attention which immediately resonated. Exploring the “Story of Self, Story of Us, Story of Now” it was quickly clear that, as a means of leading change and particularly cultural change, such an approach to stories and narrative offers invaluable help..

The principle, as I understand it, is that all real change starts with one person, who leads and takes on that change. To do this they need to tell their own story, a Story of Self. For that person to work with others to achieve real change, that story of self needs to become a Story of Us, and for that change to begin to gain momentum the story needs to become a Story of Now.

So if you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin … my own short story, my Story of Self.

My own background is from a deeply medical family in Ireland, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side was a doctor, both my grandfathers were doctors, both my parents were doctors, all of my uncles are doctors, my only brother is a doctor. Within that environment I did consider taking other paths, including a look at engineering in my last year in school, yet in the end I also wanted to become a doctor and graduated in 1993 from medical school, University College Dublin.

Once qualified, my first job was in emergency medicine and although I considered a variety of other options I quickly realised that in terms of clinical practice, emergency medicine was the most challenging, diverse, stimulating and rewarding of all clinical environments – nothing else came close to holding my interest and attention and so I chose it as my own medical field.

While doctors are understood as a privileged profession who work hard, most enjoy the push and the pressure that goes with the work, especially as it so readily offers a way to “give back”, in looking after your fellow man, your patients’, as a real means to make the world a better place.
Certainly there are few places on the planet quite like an Emergency Department/Emergency Room, where “all of life is here”, literally from cradle to grave, where rich and poor are equal and care is provided based to whoever has the greatest need. The most moving moments in this intense setting.. are not those dramatic moments of the life or limb saved, but those moments after the event when patients and partners or family come together, quietly aware of what could have been, they are special moments to witness and stories not to be forgotten.

Over 20 years practising in Emergency Departments I can explain them as perfect examples of “complex adaptive systems” where you are constantly juggling patients from major resuscitation to minor injuries and everything in between, never sure what will come in next, always working to balance issues of the quality, safety and timeliness of a patients care.

Within that complexity and over time, I noted patterns emerge. Every emergency physician on the planet will know what I mean by the A/B/C approach to resuscitation, a simple yet vital tool to guide a team involved in the complex care of a patient by looking after: A – Airway, B – Breathing, C – Circulation. This process is essential to bring order from the edge of chaos. Another pattern I found involved asking a few key questions with every patient encounter: Was there anything I hadn’t covered? Had they any questions? Were they happy with their care plan?

One key pattern that leapt out from my early days as a doctor was the information intensive nature of work at the frontline. Every shift I have done has reinforced the point that to bring emergency medicine into the 21st century, we need much better information tools to allow staff to work smarter, not harder. My interest in this challenge meant that I slowly and steadily moved into medical leadership roles in Informatics and I have worked between emergency medicine and Informatics for most of the last 10 years.

So over the last ten years I have worked to lead and represent my clinical colleagues in the changes many of us believe are now required across healthcare in this 21st Century. I have listened to their stories whilst aware of my own and it has become increasingly clear to me that we are being hindered from making major progress in this field by the state of the health IT industry.
Those who know me, who have heard my story before, will have heard me say that I believe the industry has much to offer and I know there are many good people working in health IT, but that the health IT market is way behind the rest of the software industry and holding us back. Simply put, we need better Health IT.

Today, in 2015… many patients journeys through our health systems are too cumbersome and time consuming. Today in 2015, clinical staff often find it difficult to work effectively with current health IT solutions, it remains hard for disparate clinical groups to deliver integrated patient centred care and it is too hard for clinicians to keep up with the latest evidence based practice without better information and better tools. In essence the Health IT market needs major change to deliver and develop those systems which are required to support 21st Century high quality, safe clinical care and self-care.

In recent years I have moved to lead on some of the change required by promoting the role of open source and open standards in work that has underpinned the development of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals PPM+ platform and the related Leeds Care Record. I think that this work has gone well and thankfully in recent times we have seen the market starting to change.

Yet there is much more work to do and it has become increasingly clear that my journey needs to take this mission further and wider, to support the development of an enabling “open platform” that I believe will transform 21st century healthcare. So it was with that mission in mind that I completed my last shifts in Leeds ED last weekend, a new journey is in store, a new chapter in the story of self.

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Responses

  1. […] phase of NHS England’s Integrated Digital Care Technology Fund. With the clinical leadership of Dr Tony Shannon, we are now reaching out to work with those 24 other integration pioneers who want to be part of […]

  2. […] phase of NHS England’s Integrated Digital Care Technology Fund. With the clinical leadership of Dr Tony Shannon, we are now reaching out to work with those 24 other integration pioneers who want to be part of […]

  3. […] Link to the original post The Story of Self at frectal.com here  […]


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