Fixes Don’t Have to be Complicated

By Kim Smiley

The main goal of doing root cause analysis is to get to the solutions at the end.  The actual analysis portion serves to provide a comprehensive, orderly way to get to those solutions.  The best way to get solutions is brainstorming by all the personnel who have a stake in the issue – and maybe some who don’t.  The New York Times recent series on “small fixes” has highlighted some amazing developments that are helping to mitigate a large number of healthcare issues, in extremely easy ways.

For example: Pap smears are frequently used to diagnose cervical cancer in wealthy countries.  But what about countries that don’t have enough doctors or labs to make this a practical solution?  Increasing the number of doctors or labs is an extremely long-term, complicated solution.  Instead, Johns Hopkins developed a new procedure that can be done in one visit by a nurse, without lab work.  You brush vinegar on the cervix, precancerous cells turn white, and they’re frozen off right then with carbon dioxide.

Another organization, Diagnostics for All, has developed paper diagnostic forms  for a whole host of diseases, which are smaller than a stamp, can be run off on a Xerox machine, cost less than a penny and can be read without training.  Although these end results are inexpensive and accessible, the path to get there may be more complicated.  Diagnostics for All is supported by grants and foundations, but that kind of support is getting harder to find as the economy continues to worsen.  Additionally, profit for items designed primary to assist developing countries are limited.

There’s also the general feeling that expensive, complicated fixes must be better.  Some of the most effective fixes for healthcare issues – washing hands, using checklists, losing weight – are still not universally used and are constantly in danger of being replaced with costly, cumbersome alternatives.  Sometimes it’s just that people don’t believe something simple can be effective.  Sometimes it’s that the people who have been seeing these problems for years believe that if a solution were that easy, it would have already worked, and something more invasive and expensive is needed.  And, sadly, a lot of it comes down to profit.  Expensive machines, diagnostics and procedures simply make everyone involved more money than using vinegar, paper, and soap.  It’s possible, and hopeful, that the changes in the economy will start turning things in a different direction.

How can you start implementing small fixes in your organization?  First, get everyone involved in the root cause analysis and solution brainstorming.  Bring in a few people who don’t appear to have anything to do with the issue.  Explain the issue to them and let them come up with a few solutions.  Their fresh voice may result in a fresh idea.  Examine all potential solutions for ease of implementation and projected effectiveness.  If you’ve got an idea that’s easy to implement, go ahead and implement it.  If it doesn’t work, or more help is still needed, go on to the more difficult-to-implement solutions.  Start an idea box.  It’s free, it’s easy, and you may be surprised what people come up with.  The New York Times has its own “Small Fixes Challenge” It posts a healthcare problem, explains the details of the issue, and invites reader ideas.  The ideas are reviewed by a healthcare professional well-versed in the topic.

Try a small fix in your organization today.  Ask someone what they see as an issue in the organization.  And then ask them what they’d do to fix it.  A great way to get a variety of responses is ask for the “money is no object” fix, a “free” fix, and then a fix somewhere in the middle.  The answers may surprise you.  And they might have a great idea with their “free” fix.  So, what are you waiting for?  Like all small fixes, it’s worth a try.