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Not all solutions are linear

We mistakenly believe that the path to solving some of our customer, client or patient’s problems is linear. Want to improve your liver function? Stop drinking alcohol. Want to lose weight? Go on a diet. Want to have more energy? Stop smoking. The ‘solution’ is simple. But it doesn’t usually work that way.

Sophie sat looking glazed as her doctor suggested a strict diet that might help her shed the kilos. It didn’t end well. She never lost any weight and eventually stopped attending that clinic. Her life was complicated. She had always been overweight and after the babies were born she got steadily heavier until she was obese. She lives in a modest two bedroom rented home with three children and partner. He works as a bus driver. Sophie does shifts at a laundry when her friend needs help covering the roster. The family buy their clothes second hand and just about pay their bills. At the weekend they go to the mall and have a takeaway meal from the food court. Sophie enjoys the day at the mall where she meets her friends and spend the afternoon gossiping while the children are in the play area. She didn’t learn to cook and her small kitchen is barely equipped to turn out the simplest meal. She never enjoyed school and can’t read. In quiet moments Sophie admits she doesn’t like the way life turned out but she has dreams that she might win the lottery and then life will be so much better.

With this as her back story the diet and exercise program wasn’t appealing. She may decide she wants to reduce the risk of developing diabetes, a condition that impacted her father. It may be a meandering journey but the best coach will stick with her.

Picture by jurek d.

What stories do you tell?

We all have stories about what we do for a living.  We tell them all the time- even if we don’t recognize that we are telling stories.  They communicate how we feel about our work. Do your stories convey the impression that you are stressed out, bored, bullied, treated unfairly and in general can’t wait to retire? You realise that this is also your self talk and that ultimately you will magnify these experiences. On the other hand if you started telling stories about experiences that energized you, made you feel valued and creative then you might notice more about your job that seems to resonate with what you want and how you want to feel.

At 9 o’clock one bright morning a 32 year of man had been waiting for an hour in a busy clinic. He was called into the doctor’s office. Covered in tattoos, he was a muscular man whose tanned skin suggested a life outdoors. He wore a high vis vest and heavy steel capped boots.

I’ve had a toothache since three o’clock this morning doctor and I need to get to work

He said rubbing his jaw. His doctor was curious, it was odd that a man who seemed very robust in every other way, was getting ready to go to work would wait for an hour in a busy clinic complaining about toothache that started a few hours ago. But of course that wasn’t the whole story. The doctor watched him rubbing his jaw and the side of his neck.

Where did the pain start?

In my chest doctor, it was like someone was sitting on my chest, I felt a bit nauseous and it seems to have settled in my jaw and the side of my neck. I think it’s going into my shoulder now.

Half an hour later the man was in hospital being treated for a heart attack. His decision to get to a doctor might just have saved his life and his doctor’s curiosity paid of.

Picture by Jonathan Moureau

What happens after they leave?

What happens after you sell your product to your customer or client? They drink the coffee, drive the car or wear the coat until it’s time to get another one. It’s a bit different in healthcare because the story doesn’t end with the person taking the tablets on one day. Fred is 65 and he has diabetes. His blood sugar readings are high despite weeks of ‘dieting’.  There is no doubt that he needs drug treatment. At the same time his cholesterol levels and blood pressure are not satisfactory. He is going to need multiple medications. He is not sure why because he has no symptoms. What do you tell him? How do you frame this new reality for Fred? How will this impact on his life? He likes going on long holidays now that he has retired in fact last week he  booked a six week cruise for later in the year. He enjoys a beer and chips while watching television at night. He hasn’t been to a gym-ever. He still smokes a few cigarettes every day. He doesn’t like eating vegetables unless they are fried. His wife Joanne is ten yours younger and they still have ‘date nights’. He needs to stay driving his car as they live out of town. He is looking forward to the birth of his fourth grandchild this year. It’s reported to be a girl, the first grand daughter. He has heard that some of these medicines give you diarrhea and can make you impotent. According to his friend some cholesterol tablets give you muscle pain. What happens now doctor? How will you address Fred’s concerns about this new situation?

Picture by Carol Von Canon

What happens next is up to you

Healthcare more than any other service warrants taking the long view. Supposing a toddler becomes feverish overnight. Mum and dad (assuming they are living together) are likely to fret about that child all night. No one will sleep well. The following day the parents will continue to worry that their baby is ill. Friends or family will be consulted. It is possible but not certain that a grandparent may be able to offer some relief with childcare.

Researchers in the United States have found that a third of children under the age of six receive up to 10 hours of care a week and that 47% of all grandparents with grandchildren (under 13 years) living nearby provide some childcare . Although more grandmothers (54%) provided child care it was found that grandfathers (38%) also made a significant contribution. In the United Kingdom it has been estimated that up to half of working parents rely on grandparent care for their children. It was also found that although grandparents were prepared to provide some child care, and at times even reduced their working hours to provide it, they did not want to give up their jobs. Australian Institute of family studies

The partner who has to go to work the next day will be distracted and anxious. The childcare arrangements, if that’s the norm will be on hold as one parent may take time off to be at home. The parents will visit a pharmacy (drug store) and acquire whatever is recommended in the hope that the child will recover quickly. That is unlikely as even a viral illness can make a child unwell for several days. Eventually they will seek medical advice. Phone calls will be made and appointments requested. Parent or parents and toddler will travel and wait in line to see a doctor. They will eventually wheel the toddler into a health practitioners room. If that person is you what happens next is up to you.  Most likely the child will have a viral illness, be teething or have some other minor illness. But to this family this will have been a stressful and worrying couple of days. How you respond will form their impression of your service and make a bad situation an opportunity to learn about caring for a sick child or add to the  drama.

Picture by Andrew Seaman