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James Hanson, MD, Director, the Lean Health Care Practice of Moss Adams

Meetings are a Virus

By James Hanson, MD
Director, Lean Health Care Practice
Moss Adams

See all this Month's Articles

Original Publish Date: February 11, 2020

As I see so many people struggling this winter with bad colds and flu, I have made a clinical observation: The signs and symptoms of a highly contagious virus are similar to what I’m seeing in the current epidemic of meeting overload that is running rampant throughout our health care delivery sites. The meeting virus is spread through both direct contact and through electronic communication, especially e-mail. As a result of its virulence and means of transmission, hospital leaders are highly susceptible.

Everywhere I find the same signs and symptoms. The signs are:

  1. Nobody can find enough time to do what they know they should and want to do
  2. Strategic targets are not met
  3. Collective blood pressure and heart rate and respiratory rate are elevated
  4. There is little free time in calendars—from the C-suite to managers and directors, frontline physicians, and care providers

The symptoms for infected individuals are:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Anxiety
  3. Frustration
  4. Burnout
  5. Taking work home
  6. Expertise in providing excuses for not getting results

Unless we work towards quarantine, a vaccine, and the development of herd immunity, I’m not sure we can stop this current epidemic. So we need to take immediate measures to contain the virus.

As we work toward prevention, we must also strive to relieve the symptoms:

I have not yet invented a good vaccine to prevent meeting virus, but I am working on it. As a lean consultant, I am a strong advocate of and witness to the power of cultural transformation. Early research suggests that we can succeed in limiting the spread by implementing and supporting a culture that uses meetings as a last resort. We can also see dramatic results in an organizational setting that does most of its problem-solving where the actual work is done: Leading work on the “gemba” (the shop room floor where value is added) is generally far more effective than in meeting rooms because attendees hear from people who do the work; by testing solutions that come directly from the front line, leaders can markedly increase buy-in for the changes you want to implement.

Consider serving as a public health spokesperson within your organization about the perils of the meeting virus:

If you falter or give in to old habits, remember that any time spent in a meeting is time we are not actually caring for patients. That ought to spur you on to greater vigilance.

I wish you great success fighting the meeting virus and expect many of you will let me know when you have reduced your time in meetings by more than 25%. Aim for 50% less time in meetings. What will you do with all that time?

James Hanson, MD, FAAP, Consulting Director, Moss Adams LLP. Dr. Hanson is a respected physician who has practiced as a pediatric intensivist in the PICU at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital since 1988, and is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UCSF. He has held progressive management responsibility for quality and performance improvement, medical staff affairs, clinical education, electronic health records implementation, and medical group operations. He has a strong clinical background with expertise in patient safety, Toyota Management System, telehealth, and clinical outcomes management.