According to Daniel Pink, I am a lucky person. I am part of the new wave of leaders.
Right-brained peopleartists, writers, inventorsare the next business elite, declares Pink, author of the book, A Whole New Mind. Those of us who think contextually, who view the whole picture, have a leg up on the old left-brain guardthe logical, sequential, analytical. Thats a relief, because if it ever depended on me to assemble say, an engine, from all the pieces jumbled in front of me, that car wouldnt go anywhere for a very long time. But give me the whole engine and let me study the parts, I might have better success.
What does this have to do with patient safety?
Quite a bit, think the organizers of the annual Patient Safety Congress, held May 14-16 in Nashville. Pink was a guest speaker at the conference, hosted by the National Patient Safety Foundation.
Pink discussed what he thinks are the three biggest factors driving the shift from left-brained to right-brained thinking: the automation of routine processes, the growth in populations in Asia, and the abundance of prosperity in industrialized nations. His argumentironicallyis extremely logical and linear.
The material standard of living in the U.S. is breathtaking, and because we have such freedom from want, we spend more of our time seeking the meaning and purpose in the things we do. This is the first migration to whole concept, right-brained thinking, Pink said. Industry continues to use technology to automate routine taskssoftware, he said, has begun to replace the left side of the brain.
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And the population boom in countries such as India has contributed to much of those automated processes being shipped overseas, where labor is cheaper, he said.
None of this means the left side of the brain is no longer useful, because it is still absolutely, 100% necessary, Pink said. Its just no longer enough. All the changes leave the American business world in need of creative thinkers, people who can observe the whole picture and reason aesthetically, not just logically.
This is where patient safety starts to be relevant in the thinking paradigm.
In addition to different reasoning skills, right-brained thinkers use other emotional methods to arrive at conclusions or interact with peoplespecifically, empathy. Empathy has a much larger place in the examination room than doctors might think, Pink said.
Enter the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, something that could be helpful for increasing empathy awareness, Pink said. The scale, designed in the last decade by the Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care at Jefferson Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, measures empathy in doctors, medical students and other health professionals. It uses 20 items on a seven-point Likert scale in a 10-minute test to arrive at scores, and purchasing the test includes a standard report of empathy scores and descriptive statistics of the participants, according to the college. The test has been translated into 21 languages, and some studies of its ability to accurately measure empathy levels have indicated it could be more widely employed.
Empathy in the doctors office would go a long way toward improving the balance between left- and right-brained thinking, Pink said.
Doctors need to think logically about their patients, but they also need to stop viewing them as algorithms to solve, he said.
Chicago-based reporter Jean DerGurahian covers quality and patient safety. She can be reached at [email protected]