As we were making the five-hour drive from Telluride back to Denver, Tim McDonald likened the movement toward transparent, patient-centered care to climbing the same mountains that surrounded us that week. A team building 2.5 mile hike up to Bear Creek Falls at an ending elevation of ~10K feet on our third day at the Telluride Patient Safety Educational Roundtable provided plenty of opportunity to get to know our fellow attendees on both a more personal and professional level. It also served as a wonderful analogy, as Tim suggested, to the challenges inherent in delivering patient-centered care by teams of individuals who bring a variety of strengths, weaknesses and skill to each encounter.
As we climbed the mountain, sharing stories of our families and our work lives, we all grappled with the demands of the environment. Some were better physically prepared for a hike at altitude, others were overcoming fears–of heights, of their ability to make it up and back, of being able to keep pace with the group. But a wonderful thing happened along the way. Any weaknesses some in our group may have experienced along the route were eagerly supported by the strengths of others. As a result, all made it up to see the majesty of the natural falls rushing strong off the mountain side. Respect for each individual in the group was the first priority, regardless of hiking experience or ability, and everyone ultimately benefited from that respect.
Providing care to patients can indeed be similar to hiking at altitude. The environment is going to make demands upon care providers that are outside of their control. As a care team, the choice exists to respectfully support one another in the face of those demands or not. Dr. McDonald’s analogy of improving care and climbing mountains is spot on, on so many levels, and I know, having hiked a number of mountains, that traveling with a supportive group not only makes it more enjoyable, but is also the safest way to travel.