Why do people avoid mandatory self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic? The simple answer is because they don’t want to change. “The facts are important, but so are emotions,” says researcher Dr Holly Seale in this article in the Conversation.
A theme that often comes up in conversations with my patients is behavioural change. I discovered a long time ago – mostly through trial and error – that telling people to change, adopt a certain lifestyle etc, has a low chance of creating the desired outcome. There are other, strong factors that influence our willingness and ability to change.
Working against us is the ‘optimism bias’. As a result of unrealistic optimism, we tend to underestimate the probability that we are exposed to negative events, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
Dr Seal and her team found that quarantine compliance is often hampered by a lack of engagement and low levels of ownership within the community, complicated by information gaps, fear of social isolation and concerns about loss of income, job security and sick leave.
Supporting the adoption of desired behaviour appears to be a key element.
It seems to me that people should be invited to learn more about the risks, explore barriers and consider the benefits of taking a certain action. It is essential to help build confidence and develop a positive attitude towards change (the same principles used in motivational interviewing).
The pitfall is to jump straight to the solution. This point is well made in the classic video ‘It’s not about the nail‘.
I recently attended a workshop about behavioural change, where the video was used to demonstrate the ‘righting reflex’ – our strong but not very effective desire to make things right immediately.
The video illustrates the different needs people have when faced with a problem. In this case, the different approach of a woman and a man to the same issue (a nail). If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth having a look.
Will the GP surgery of the future have separate entrances and waiting areas?
Will it be partitioned and contain designated isolation areas to accommodate possible contagious and non-contagious visitors? Will reception staff be working behind Perspex screens or will the service counters keep patients at a distance of one-and-a-half metres?
Has the era of universal telehealth, where patients can interact with their GP or practice nurse from the comfort of their home, or anywhere else – facilitated by permanent Medicare item numbers, practice support payments and new affordable and trustworthy digital communication tools – finally commenced?
Will office and medical equipment be designed to enable more ‘no-touch’ interactions?
Will technology such as remote monitoring devices and health apps be able to provide us with the information we need when we cannot observe someone in-person?
And are we going to have to learn new skills, such as gathering data and making reliable assessments while the patient is not in the same room? Will GP training of the future place a greater focus on telemedicine skills? Will we meet, make decisions and deliver education more often via video conferencing?
Will doctors finally be able to issue paperless scripts and let patients pick up their medications without having to physically visit a medical centre? Are we going to demand more from our medical software systems, so it will perform these tasks for us, even under circumstances of high demand and from different devices and locations?
Is the way we keep stock of essential equipment and medications going to change? Do we want to be more aware of the strengths and weakness of supply chains? Will GP surgeries in the future be more prepared for pandemics and natural disasters?
Will the interaction with other parts of the health system change, facilitating for example, better electronic two-way communication and sharing of information with hospitals? Will our patients be able to access telehealth appointments with allied health or secondary and tertiary care facilities more often?
Will we be able to better align general practice and state health organisations during future natural disasters and pandemics? Is it possible that doctors, pharmacists, pathology providers and telehealth providers will pull together, putting aside personal or political gains?
A lot has been said about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and how it has forced us to review, rethink and redesign almost everything we do.
The pandemic has exposed weaknesses and limitations of our healthcare system and, at the same time, stimulated creativity and innovation.
But some things will never change. To maximise the benefits of primary care, the long-term therapeutic doctor-patient relationship remains crucial. And, at some stage this will again involve shaking hands, even holding hands, as well as the necessary physical contact during examinations, tests and procedures.
There is of course a possibility that we revert back to business as usual when the pandemic is over. Medical conservatism would caution against rapid change or innovation unless the benefits are clear and supported by evidence.
Sometimes questions are just as important as the answers. It will be interesting to see how we come out of this crisis; who chooses to adapt and why – and who prefers to go back to the way we have always practised medicine.
As John F. Kennedy purportedly observed, in Chinese the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. Nothing could be more applicable to the present coronavirus pandemic.
The end of the My Health Record opt-out period is in sight. Unless the government decides otherwise, next month the vast majority of Australians will have a digital national shared health record. What’s next?
A while ago I saw a patient who was passing through my town, on her way home from Cairns to Sydney. She had been seen at the emergency department in Cairns and was told to visit a GP for follow-up. She had no hospital letter or medical records but with a few clicks I was able to get access to the hospital discharge summary through the My Health Record, which included results of blood tests, ECG and chest x-ray, and I could see what medications were prescribed.
This is a rare example of the benefits of the MyHR; once the system will be used at a larger scale this could become an everyday reality.
The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) says that about 1.14M Australians have opted out and apparently the opt-out rate is slowing down. At the same time others are signing up and there is an expectation, based on the opt-out trials, that many of those who opted out will eventually opt back in.
The Australian My Health Record is a compromise between a consumer record and a clinical record. This means that there will always be people in both camps who are not completely satisfied. Despite everything we’ve come a long way.
Work in progress
The My Health Record, currently in version 9.4.2, continues to evolve. Looking back over the years progress has been slow but significant.
For example, the software is far less clunky these days; accessing a record or preparing and uploading a shared health summary can now be done within seconds; we got rid of the dreadful participation contracts; there is a secondary use of data framework and users can choose to opt-out of secondary use of their data.
It is expected that more pathology and imaging providers will come on board next year and the legal framework will be further adjusted to improve privacy of Australians, including complete deletion of data if people decide they don’t want a record anymore.
According to ADHA over 87% of Australians know about the record and more than 85% of general practice is registered.
It is likely though that this awareness is rudimentary despite hundreds of engagement activities by the agency and Primary Health Networks (PHNs). Most Australians will not be aware that they have control over who-can-access-what in their records and how to change the privacy settings.
The RACGP has held many PHN-based peer-to-peer workshops across the country as well as webinars for general practitioners and staff, and around 2000 people attended – which is a lot but probably not enough. Most non-GP specialists are not yet on board.
Then there are still the concerns about for example privacy, workflow and accuracy, many of which are summarised in this year’s senate inquiry report. It appears there is still work to do.
The next stage
The agency has started preparing for the ‘post opt-out period’. As it stands around mid December empty shell records will be created, and activated once accessed by providers or consumers.
ADHA says the aims of the next stage of the consumer campaign will be maintaining awareness, taking control of the My Health Record and encouraging consumers to discuss the MyHR with providers.
The provider campaign will focus on the expected benefits including improved efficiency, such as less search-time, and better health outcomes – although skeptics will question the latter claim by the agency.
There will also be a focus on getting specialists on board, aged care access, improved family safety and child protection and education for vulnerable consumer groups.
Meanwhile ADHA has released an international review of digital health record systems. The findings show that the Australian MyHR empowers consumers to access and personally control their information, including what’s in it and who can see it.
ADHA emphasised that, although many countries have laws that allow users to view their health information, only Australia and a limited number of other countries allow citizens to control who sees their information and request corrections to their own health data.
The MyHR PR machine is in full swing. It will be interesting to see what the response to the senate inquiry will be and what happens next year. I hope the momentum of recent times will continue.
What needs to change?
From a usability point of view the wow-factor is still missing and although that’s nothing new in healthcare, some work in this area would go down well.
For example, it would improve workflow and safety if doctors could download MyHR information not just as PDF but import new medications straight into a local medication list.
The secondary use of data framework is fairly broad, and could be tightened up a bit further. Many have commented that the messaging around the MyHR should be less promotional and more about benefits versus limitations – but I’m not holding my breath here.
What change do you want to see?
Details have been changed in the case above to ensure patient confidentiality.
Immature tribal cultures create silos and distrust, and sustain undesired behaviours. How can we change a dominant culture and become more effective?
My mother spent years of her childhood in Tjideng, a Japanese internment camp for women and children run by the cruel Captain Kenichi Sone.
She was born in the former Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. The Dutch occupied and exploited the country for over four hundred years, but in 1942 things changed dramatically as a result of the Invasion by the Japanese imperial army.
The women in the Japanese internment camps are sometimes called the ‘forgotten women’ of the war in the East. These camps, as well as Dutch colonialism, are some of the worst examples of tribalism.
Tribalism comes of course in many shapes and forms including, as we all know, in the medical world.
Tribes & organisations
Most leaders know that tribal cultures are a key factor in the performance of organisations. Some leaders are experts at creating close-knit cultures, but only a few can change a culture that doesn’t perform optimally.
Tribalism is the natural way we organise ourselves into social groups. Our ‘tribes’ are part of who we are. They offer support, security and a sense of belonging an there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, tribalism can also refer to a false sense of superiority, sometimes leading to exclusion, bullying and discrimination.
We can change a dominant tribal culture and upgrade our organisations to more collaborative, healthy stages. History shows that goal-oriented groups and organisations that work well with others are more successful.
5 tribal cultures
In the book ‘Tribal leadership’, Professor David Logan et al describe five stages of tribal culture. As he points out, the medical profession is only half way, at stage three of five.
Logan’s tribal stage one is the mindset of gangs and war criminals – people who come to work with weapons. There is hostility and violence and no cohesion.
People working in a stage two culture may have coffee mugs with slogans like: “I hate work,” or “I wish it was Friday”.
There is often a high suspicion of management and authority in general, and team-building efforts are not effective in this culture.
Stage three is the dominant culture in almost half of all organisations, including many professional workplaces. Quite often doctors fall into this category. In stage three it is all about personal success and being the smartest. Stages four and five are the collaborative cultures.
Let’s have a closer look at the most common culture, stage three.
I’m great (and you’re not)
The mantra of stage three is ‘I’m great’, often followed by the unspoken words ‘and you’re not’. There’s a long history in medicine of stage three cultures with a strong focus on individual expertise and success.
One of the earliest examples I could find is this well known Rembrandt paintingtitled, ‘The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp.’
Dr Tulp was a highly respected surgeon in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century; he is clearly the central figure in this painting. He’s the only one wearing a hat. Sadly but not surprisingly there are no women present.
You could argue that this scene demonstrates the dominant culture of the exclusive Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons. These days, almost four hundred years later, the dominant culture in medicine hasn’t changed all that much.
Professionals working in a stage three culture are often very good at what they do as individuals but what they don’t do is bringing people together.
They may think they are. Interestingly people in stage three often think that they are at one of the collaborative stages. They may talk about collaboration and teamwork – hallmarks of stage four and five – but their actions firmly put them in stage three.
The issue with a stage three culture is that it cannot be fixed – it can only be abandoned. The solution is to move your tribe to the next stage, stage four.
How to upgrade
People working in a stage four culture don’t talk about themselves. They first start listening. It’s no longer about being the smartest or about personal success.
There’s a move from ‘expert’ to ‘partner’. The language used is not “I’m great” but “We’re great”. There’s tribal pride.
Eventually, later in stage four, organisational boundaries become less important and cross-pollination between organisations may occur.
So how do we upgrade our culture from stage three to the more collaborative stage four? Logan describes several principles, including:
Focus your team on tribal success instead of personal success
Point out the superior results of stage four tribal cultures
Describe role models in the organisation that show stage four behaviour, for example people who are talking about ‘we’ instead of ‘me’
Encourage transparency and sharing of knowledge & information as much as possible.
There’s one main problem with stage four, reflected in the unspoken sentence that often follows “We’re great,” and that is: “… and you’re not,” referring to other groups or organisations. That’s where stage five comes in.
Stage five is the dominant culture in two percent of work places. In this stage there is no ‘they’.
‘Them & us’ thinking has gone out of the window and there is a focus on inspiring purposes. These are often universal values, taking away the need to compete.
People working in stage five cultures can work with any group that has a commitment to universal core values – even if these values are different from their own.
More collaboration in medicine has many benefits, including for direct patient care, mental health of doctors and healthcare reform.
We always talk about leadership but effective followership is just as important.
Effective followers don’t blame their leaders when things don’t go as planned; instead they offer support and gently, but persistently, steer their leaders in the right direction to help them achieve the organisational goals.
What the medical profession needs is people who build bridges.
I’d encourage you to review your own organisation(s) and look for opportunities to collaborate. Don’t accept non-collaborative cultures.
Find role models and like-minded people, people who talk about ‘we’ instead of ‘me’, and together take your dominant culture to the next level.
This is an adaptation of a presentation given at GPDU18.
My first blog was a travel blog. Nancy and I were working and travelling around Australia and New Zealand and, like so many others, we blogged about our down-under experience. The audience: Family and friends. Number of daily visitors: 3-5.
In 2004 there was no Twitter, and LinkedIn and Facebook were the new kids on the block. Still, it was good fun. We were passionate about our travel adventures and we enjoyed uploading the pictures we took with our 4 megapixel Sony Cybershot.
Four years later we settled down in Western Australia and started a business. A blog became part of the new practice website.
In the early days the blog attracted 20-30 visitors per day, but after a while the number grew to 40-60. Connecting the blog to the practice social media accounts made a big difference. I learned a lot about content – what works and what doesn’t.
In 2013 we decided to move back to Queensland and I left the practice. I began to focus more on my Doctor’s bag blog (it’s good to see the Panaceum blog is still very much alive).
Keeping a blog going is hard work. There is no ‘easy way’ to do it. The competition is fierce and as there are many great bloggers out there, it’s not that simple to get noticed.
I really enjoy blogging – which helps of course. I am fortunate to work in an industry that’s a constant source of inspiration.
Slowly the visitors number started to climb to 80-100 per day.
But just as I thought my blog was taking off, writer’s block hit me hard. My creativity was gone. I didn’t blog for a while. The longer I didn’t post anything, the more attractive the thought of deleting my WordPress account.
English is not my first language and I often struggle to find the correct words. So, I argued, why not save myself the trouble and stop blogging altogether?
One evening I was reading an article about writer’s block. It was the break-through I needed. The author, Jeff Goins, simply said: “You overcome writer’s block by writing.” His message was short & sweet: It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you get going.
That’s what I did and somehow it worked. Before I knew it, the inspiration was back and the blog ideas started flowing again.
The first time my daily visitors number reached 1K, I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a one-off, just luck, but last month over 15,000 people visited Doctor’s bag.
Although I want people to read my posts, it has never been my goal to get more visitors – nor do I think the hit counter is a measure of success. I enjoy producing content that makes others think. If it leads to change – even in the smallest way – I’ve reached my goal.
There will always be people with more writing talent, better posts and more followers, so I try to keep Bill Gates’ words in mind:
“Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world… if you do so, you are insulting yourself
But there is one thing that is more important than anything else…
The best tip
The one thing that determines success in blogging, and in many other ventures in life, is perseverance. It is important to follow your passion. If you enjoy writing, the best tip I can give you is: Don’t give up.
Everybody has a story to tell, so keep writing. You will get better at it and people will find your blog.
Picture from my first travel blog in 2004, dropped off at Lizard Island, North Queensland, with food, water, tent & map.