“How can I get people to believe we are committed to quality?” The question was posed to me by the newly hired Vice President for Quality Management at the hospital. I was surprised by the question, not because the answer wasn’t important, but because I thought the VP of Quality for a large institution should already know it. I was further surprised that he was asking me. Although I had the fancy title of “Executive Director of the Primary Care Institute” I had only been in that part-time position for a few months and had no experience at all in quality management.
In spite of my lack of experience, the answer came to me in just a few moments. He wasn’t asking me how to manage quality, he was asking me how to get people to believe that quality was a high value for organization. With that realization the answer sprang forth from my lips almost without thinking. “Easy,” I said, “Do something to improve quality of care that is against your financial interest.”
He looked puzzled, so I explained. “When the goals of quality and profitability come into conflict, the one that wins is the one you are most committed to. People I talk to say the hospital is committed to profit, and that quality takes a back seat. If they see you do something that promotes quality, even though it hurts the bottom line, then they will believe you are committed to it.”
I do not think my answer was the one he was looking for, as the expression on his face in response was not encouraging. While my answer may not have impacted him that day, it had an effect on me. My answer taught me that the value of a thing is always measured relative to the value of other things. As people of limited resources, both in time and finances, it is inevitable that we will find ourselves having to choose where to invest our time and money. We cannot do everything so we have to make choices. Our choices reveal our values.
In the last few weeks I have heard many stories of choices made by others. I heard a minister share how a commitment to ministry had taken time away from his son, with heart-breaking consequences later in life. I dealt with a recently hospitalized patient with multiple serious problems who had been rushed into and out of the hospital by her doctors before her condition had been adequately treated. I ended my relationship with two separate hospice agencies who both promised attentive care and consistent communication, who both talked extensively about a commitment to service but neither of whom had bothered to update me on my patients for several weeks.
The minister had said he was committed to quality parenting, the hospital doctors would say they were committed to quality medical care, and the hospice agencies had repeatedly assured me of their commitments to compassionate personalized care, but they all fell short. They did not fall short because they despised the quality to which they expressed allegiance, they fell short because had a higher allegiance to something else. For the minister it was the demands of his ministry, for the hospital doctors is was the desire to get the patient out of the hospital, and for the hospice agencies it was a desire to save time by only communicating when absolutely necessary.
As it easy as it is for me to criticize the minister, doctors and hospice agencies (and criticize them I did), I do so at my peril. I am not immune to the trap into which they fell. Like them, it is not always bad things that get in the way of doing what I should. Sometimes it is a case of good things pulling me away from better things, other times it is forgetting what the best things in life are.
I share with all of them another reality. The world is watching to see what I am most committed to. Their judgment will not be based on the words I speak. It will be based on the choices I make.