Speakers at the meeting bandied about a range of colorful metaphors for safety and communication, some more successfully than others.
During one session about healthcare reform and its potential impact on care transitions, Mark Williams, professor and chief of hospital medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, played an old video clip from “I Love Lucy” featuring a famous scene of Lucy and Ethel working in a candy factory. The clip shows the two women struggling to wrap chocolates as they pass by on a rapidly moving conveyor belt, stuffing them in their mouths desperately as they fall further and further behind.
Williams used the clip, which drew loud laughter and emphatic nods from attendees, to draw a comparison to many hospital emergency departments, where patient volume can get out of control fast, and it is easy to make errors.
In a plenary session, Mae Jemison, a physician, engineer and the first African-American female astronaut, delivered a talk comparing the complexity of the space shuttle with patient-safety efforts and drawing analogies between organizational roadblocks in both the space program and in hospitals. Jameson's talk, while interesting, was peppered with some pretty complex scientific language, including a rather meandering explanation of the O-ring failure that caused the Challenger explosion, and audience members looked a bit lost at times. It is rocket science, after all.
But by far the most successful metaphor at the conference was delivered in the opening session, when attendees were treated to a presentation of the Music Paradigm, a New York-based program that uses a symphony orchestra to model effective teamwork, communication and leadership. Created and conducted by Roger Nierenberg, the presentation is marketed specifically toward organizations and systems undergoing periods of “exceptional challenge or change.”
A packed ballroom of audience members watched and participated as the conductor led the orchestra members through exercises, portraying the importance of strong organizational leadership and taking into account different perspectives. Long after it was over, the session continued to be the hot topic of discussion among attendees, some of whom reported being near tears during it. Gerald Hickson, director of the Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, called the program transformative and said it had made him rethink some of his leadership strategies, and many others echoed his sentiments.
“I think it was a great and moving way to show the importance of teamwork and communication,” says Diane Pinakiewicz, NPSF's president. “One of our leaders got a call from his employees not long after the presentation about a problem at work. He said his usual response would have been to micromanage the situation, but he told them instead that he trusted them to make the right decision.”
Whether or not these seismic changes in attitude and leadership style actually stick certainly remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure. Judging from the open-mouthed expressions on the faces of attendees as they streamed out of the session, it was quite a show.
Maureen McKinney covers patient safety and health information technology.