Healthcare: When You’re In A Hole, Quit Digging


To those of us who have children, you may have put them to bed by reading one of my favorite childhood books, Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel. It’s a simple read. Mike and his steam shovel compete against other more advanced shovels to dig a foundation for a new building.

“ We’re going to need a bigger shovel,” yelled the CIO to his workers who were gazing into the hole wondering how to help the patient. The foreman tossed his shovel to the patient.

“How is the shovel going to help me?” The patient asked. “Do you really think that if I dig a deeper hole I will get out?”

“I’d love to help you, but I have a meeting with EPIC.” The CIO walks away.

The unfortunate patient stares at the shovel and unwraps his Snickers bar. He wonders how long he’ll be there until help arrives.

The chief patient experience officer happens to walk by, and she spots the patient. “How can I help you?” She asks.

“Get me out of the hole,” he hollers. She tosses him her cell phone and tells him to call the call center.

The health system’s innovation officer tells him that they now offer valet parking and Starbuck’s coffee and he tosses the patient two coupons. “When you get out of the hole, use these coupons. We’ll pay for your parking and a cup of plain coffee—no cappuccino.”

The patient eats his last candy bar, wishing he had a cup of coffee. Using the chief patient experience officer’s cell phone, he calls me and tells me of his plight.

I jump into the hole.

“Why did you jump into the hole?” The patient asks me.

I tell him, “I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.”

We get out of the hole and drive to the hospital. I hand the parking attendant the chief innovation officer’s free parking coupon. We return the CIO’s shovel and the chief patient experience officer’s cell phone.

He uses the Starbucks’s coupon to get a cup of coffee. Because he’s had such a bad experience, he figures he’ll get the largest coffee, a Venti. (In Italian, the word venti means twenty; at Starbucks, it means at twenty-four-ounce cup of coffee.)

We tell the admission clerk that the patient has a 10 a.m. appointment. The clerk tells us to go to the waiting room and take seats with dozens of other patients.

I thumb through a thirty-eight-year-old copy of Life Magazine while he watches CNN.

“I feel like I’m back in the hole,” he tells me.

I look at him and say, “I’ve been here before, and unfortunately this time, I don’t know the way out.”

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