Apr 19, 2012

Listening to Paul Batalden

Attendees enjoyed many treats at the 2012 International Forum on Quality Improvement and Safety in Paris. Inspiring keynote speeches. Impressive poster presentations as far as the eye could see. Croissants and macaroons around every corner. 

Few treats, though, compared to sitting and listening to Dartmouth professor--and improvement legend--Paul Batalden share his lessons and wisdom at a student lunch session on Thursday. He offered up Improving Health Care: A One-page Book, a book he developed "to open the topic [of health care improvement], not close it." Students, professors, and other improvement gurus (such as Don Berwick) followed along with interest.

"We get so many signals every day about the broken health care system," Batalden said. "The habit we've developed is to ignore them. We have to change that. We've got to figure out a way to make improving a simpler proposition. We have to move from where we are to where we need to be."

As a writer in the room, it was hard not to just write down every word out of Paul's mouth and hit "Submit" on this blog post. It would have been much easier and much better. For example:

"My sense is that the only thing powerful enough to overcome a habit, the only way to overpower that is with community and hospitality," he said. "And that's not tea and crumpits. Find some way to create a local group with curiosity. We didn't set out to create the IHI. We started with a group of people we knew and trusted, and became a community of curiousity."

Anyone who has met Paul has something positive to say about the interaction. He's warm, generous, brilliant, and anxious to share what he knows, which is an awful lot. But it's not how much he knows; it's how he shares it. He tells stories that engage every set of eyes in the room. 

"I remember this visit to one of the parts suppliers at Toyota. They were talking about the employee suggestion system ..." he started at one point on Thursday.

Then another: 

"I remember one time taking care of an 11-year-old boy who developed pancreatitis ..." 

The richness and the lessons of each story stick with you long after he moves on to the next one. And when you think about them later in the day, they mean even more.

The teaching--and the conversation--lasted only 45 minutes, but it's hard to imagine a better way to spend three-quarters of an hour. It was a treat that will last much, much longer.

- Mike Briddon, Managing Editor, IHI Open School

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