Beat Average and What is Old is New

by Shirley Conrad RN

Yeah, I know the World Cup has captured the world’s attention in recent weeks but for me the greatest sporting event is the Tour de France. Every year I worry about how to carry on with my life for the three weeks it takes the riders to ride the 2276 miles. I watch more TV in these three weeks than I do all year long.

This year, however, I am fresh from returning from the 10th Annual Telluride Summer Camp and therefore my safety and quality hats are still firmly planted on my head. Perhaps you know the feeling of running incoming data through a specific filter to see what comes of it. Actually, I am certain many of you do. Recently Roger took an unexpected emergency on his flight home from Telluride and turned it into a safety event complete with a debriefing, Richard found over-confidence while doing a routine task can have a painful consequence, and David found safety in grilled cheese. As you might have guessed I have found a connection between the Tour de France, specifically two commercials played during the tour, and patient safety.

First, I have to say I am thankful the beer commercial that previously played, unchanged, for two years straight has been pulled. I have Lance Armstrong to thank for that. That commercial never stirred a thought any greater than thinking, again? Really? The two commercials this year that have struck a safety and quality cord with me are from GNC and Oscar Mayer. First, is a GNC commercial with the tag line, “Beat Average”. The link is a montage of all of the commercials. Some of the specific scenes I have seen and some I have not. The ones I am familiar with and that have anchored a connection for me are; 1) the mass produced trophies that contain the identifier “participant”, 2) the trophy speaking in the middle of the night “average is good” and the boy repeating it back in his sleep, 3) the guy on the tread mill trying out his choices of mosey, stroll, or loitering, and 4) the guy that repeatedly forgets to work out.

How many people in health care are participating, that is merely showing up collecting a check (trophy) versus how many are engaged? How many are content with average? That is, doing the minimum required to stay beneath the radar while telling themselves average is good. Maybe you can picture them in your mind as they vacillate between moseying, strolling, and loitering. Then there are those that forget to wash their hands, forget to put on the isolation gown, forget to use the bar code for administering medications, forget to provide a thorough informed consent, and forget to be driven to BEAT AVERAGE as if THEIR life depended on it.

The second commercial is by Oscar Mayer. I cannot help but think about Evidence Based Practices in health care as I watch. How many of us continue to practice our respected disciplines or witness others practicing in ways that seem as absurd as the scenes in this advertisement? Picture yourself in your professional role, would you find an exchange like; “What does that do?” I am not sure but it looks awesome”, acceptable? Another angle is the idea of getting back to basics. Oscar Mayer urges consumers to go old school and eat recognizable food over blindly following the latest fad. I cannot help but reflect on the many fads imposed on my practice with the promise of being the magic bullet. Picture the jogger dragging the parachute screaming “on your left”. Yet, in time, what becomes all to clear is that the parachute doesn’t help and the trigger leading to harm is merely being shifted from A to B. In fact, just yesterday during a meeting the idiom – rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, came to mind.

Lately engagement in the provider side of health care feels like being in the middle of a feeding frenzy. Every shiny thing attracts attention and the feeders rush off, sure their quest for THE answer to their dilemma will be satisfied. And so the pendulum continues to swing with great amplitude and a short period while participants mosey along confident this too shall pass. In a way the system is likely responsible for participant behavior. For many it is likely a coping mechanism.

As I watch the riders in the tour day after day do extraordinary things it is clear not one of them got to the pinnacle of their sport quickly or easily. To beat average takes concerted effort that is mindful and calculated. Yeah, hard work that focus’s on the basics is not flashy and is undeniable old school but Oscar Mayer might have a lesson here for healthcare. Let the crowd scream “on your left” all day. To Beat Average just might take a return to basics. There is no shame in drifting left to allow the peloton to blow by. Our journey to improve quality and safety is a long one and anyone that knows the Tour knows the event is not won in a day.