On Thursday night, Dr. Andrew Morris-Singer ’00 delivered a lecture on the revitalization of the United States healthcare system.
Singer is a board-certified doctor of internal medicine as well as the president and founder of Primary Care Progress. Julie Pedroni, lecturer in philosophy and chair of public health at the College, introduced Singer, describing his organization as, “a nationwide, inter-professional, grassroots movement developing leadership capacity in the primary care community to revitalize primary care.”
He acknowledged the tremendous influence of the College in shaping his desire to push for change in his career field.
“It was really here that I got to experience what it means to work for change,” he said.
While attending medical school at Harvard, a personal encounter with the failures of the primary care system dramatically altered his perception of the field.
“In my fourth year of medical school, I almost lost my mom, essentially because she didn’t have primary care,” Singer said. “My mom was the poster child for what’s wrong with our healthcare.”
Singer realized that primary care was not a top concern for the medical community. He was strongly discouraged from entering the field after someone told him that it was so easy, “even a monkey could practice primary care.”
Despite these failures, in his talk, Singer expressed hope for change.
“This is a remarkable moment in healthcare,” Singer said. “We’ve got unprecedented opportunities to affect change in how care is delivered. We’re living through a perfect storm. Demand for services is exploding, there is a biomedical technological revolution and we as a society have realized that we don’t like how services are being delivered.”
According to Singer, relational leadership is the cure to the ailments facing our system. He advocates placing the patient in the forefront of the system, with effective change being initiated through personal stories.
“Storytelling is a strategic leadership practice to build connections, establish culture and help model leadership structures on our teams and strategies to affect big change,” Singer said.
While working at a center focused on these connections, Singer participated in weekly storytelling sessions among the employees.
“Through stories we discovered that we shared something powerful: values, the moral compass of our lives,” Singer said. “Stories broadcast them like a Wi-Fi everyone can tap into.”
It was through this process that the healthcare professionals began defining the guidelines by which they were to operate, especially in times of uncertainty.
“We’re constantly looking to each other to learn how to operate in times of uncertainty. I think all we have in healthcare right now is uncertainty,” Singer said.
Singer understands that the satisfaction of the patient and employees involved has to be of equal importance to that of success and profit. This is often lost in the typical dot model of leadership, in which one person leads an effort with everyone else on the team reporting to that leader.
“More and more, teams are moving towards the snowflake model of team. It’s a group of people working towards a common goal in an interdependent, collaborative way with a dispersion of leadership. The snowflake model empowers team members,” he said.
Singer acknowledges that the hardest component of the snowflake model is for the previous leader to relinquish control to his or her team members. He quickly found that he was having trouble letting go himself.
“I was trying to manage it all, completely burning out, things falling through the cracks left and right,” he said.
It was not until a particularly complicated patient came to his team that he learned how much his team members had to offer. He then realized how much they could increase the satisfaction of the patient and improve outcomes. While listening in on the conversation between the pharmacist, his colleague Sonia, and the patient, he realized how greatly he was failing his patients.
“I suddenly realize[d] that Sonia wasn’t taking work off my plate — it had never been on my plate. I had never been providing that level of care,” Singer said.
Singer challenges members of the healthcare community, at all levels, to take the initiative to place the satisfaction of the patient at the forefront of care. He believes that if the community does this, there will be a ripple effect of benefits across the country. This will span from the patients, to the healthcare providers and to the family members.
“When we do that we will not just be fixing the problem, we will be revitalizing the people in the process,” he concluded.