07 December 2005

Parents: Ask for a Care Meeting

We'd like to think that our children’s medical care is being executed as well as one of the notable Seattle Seahawks offensive plays in this week's game. Unfortunately, the care more often resembles a soccer game of 4-year olds (have you seen the "blob"?). We'd like to think that before the "play" the quarterback has huddled the players and assigned specific roles, defined alternatives that may be communicated through audibles, and maybe passed along commands from the coach via the QB's in-helmet headset. This portrays an image of action, up-to-the-minute responsiveness, full communication, and most importantly teamwork. We'd also like to think that, like the football team, after the game the medical team has gathered to watch game films for hours to understand where they were weak and how they can improve, individually and collectively, in the next game.

This is not what happens with our children’s healthcare. First of all, there is no "team." Instead, players often gather on the field at the last minute, sometimes not sure who the other team is, not having seen the playbook, and not even knowing the other players. The ball is in play, and the scrambling begins. When the play fails, or God forbid the game is lost, this sets up the conditions for finger-pointing. I couldn't catch the pass, it was a bad throw. I couldn't run through the line, there was bad blocking. I don't know what happened; I just never got the ball. Nobody showed me where the goal line was. I didn't know. It's not my fault - it's just how the system is. And they move on to the next patient. Oh well.

As a parent who has experienced the horrors of this, I can tell you that there is only one solution: be the quarterback. This is not a popular action and it is likely that no one at the Hospital will suggest it to you. Doctors, nurses, and administrators may all think they are the quarterback or, more likely, that they are soccer stars that need no quarterback. But they do.

There is no process at Children's Hospital - or at most hospitals - for calling the team together for a team huddle. It will only happen if you do it. You may find a lack of interest in such a meeting, in which case you will have to start aggressively pushing on the system (more on that in a future blog entry). You, Dad and Mom, are the quarterback. You, or your insurance, are paying for this. You are the customer. Your child's life is at stake. You have the right to call the shots.

Quarterbacks aren't the most skilled at running, catching passes, piercing a line of 300-pound defensive players, or kicking a field goal. Their job is to pull the team together to execute the play out of a playbook already defined for them. As parents, this is our job. The Hospital likes to call it "advocacy" which is a wimpy way of saying that if we don't do it, it will not get done.

Do it. Schedule a care meeting and mandate attendance by ALL caregivers involved with your child. If anyone no-shows for any reason other than being paged for a life-threatening situation, report it in writing. We cannot afford to have the equivalent of excited 4-year olds madly chasing a soccer ball around the field not understanding that the objective is to score a goal. Our children’s health, and lives, are more important than that. And despite the foregoing analogy, this is NOT a game.

If you need help, Tom Hansen, the new CEO of Children's Hospital, would be the person to contact as he is ultimately responsible for this. His assistant Susan can be reached at 206-987-2001.