Medical Pre-Task Planning

One tool that patients can use to encourage healthcare workers to slow down and think is medical pre-task planning. Pre-task planning is a tool that has been around a long time. It is commonly used in the construction industry to keep workmen out of potentially harmful situations. Very often healthcare providers are running around at such a frantic pace that they make basic mistakes that lead to serious problems. A knowledgeable patient, by asking timely questions, can force them to slow down and plan their work. Below is an example that worked well for me.

A laptop with WIFI is the patient’s best friend. After a week of every-other-day debridement surgeries, the doctors told me that they were going to insert a Groshong catheter into my chest the next day because vancomycin would eventually destroy the vein in my arm. That night I went to Groshong’s website and carefully studied the surgical technique manual. Bright and early the next morning the general surgeon came into my room and asked me if I knew what a Groshong catheter was. I said, “Yes, sir, I do!” then opened up my laptop and read him the list of 10 known complications and asked what he was going to do to prevent each one of them. Two of the complications he had never heard of, which would indicate that he may have never read the surgical technique manual.

The procedure went well, although when they took the catheter out a month later a felt ring slid off of the tube and remained in my chest. He said that it would eventually be absorbed by my body but three years later it remains a cute bump. That complication was not in Groshong’s manual.

By being a bit paranoid I forced the surgeon to slow down, think, and review the procedure in his head. I probably also made him worry a bit about what I might do if his surgical technique was less than perfect.

Kerry O’Connell, 2009


About Kerry O'Connell

Kerry O'Connell is a civil construction project manager and a member of the Colorado Health Facility Acquired Infections Advisory Committee. A committed patient safety advocate, he calls for restoring empathy and compassion in health care. He became a Numerator in 2005.
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