Toxic Positivity. Only focusing on the positive in order to avoid having to take on insurmountable challenges. Is this a problem for Healthcare leadership today?
today, Sachin Jane puts out another article that causes you to think the healthcare industry's biggest cultural challenge has a name. It is toxic positivity.
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All right. Today, Sachin Jane challenges us. Once again, this is a Forbes article. The healthcare industry's biggest cultural challenge has a name, and it is toxic positivity. Okay, so he defines toxic positivity. Here it is toxic positivity results from the delusional idea that one should exclusively focus on what is going right rather than identify and troubleshoot underlying cause.
Of a given problem. It's a somewhat understandable reaction to seemingly insurmountable obstacles, which perhaps explains toxic pos positivity as a ancy in the healthcare industry. I like this definition. I, I like a couple aspects of it. One is we, we've all run across these people, right? We don't want negativity, right?
Negativity or people we don't wanna be around all the time. , toxic positivity is the other side of that. It's like no matter what you present people. They look at you and they say, Hey, you know what? But look on the bright side, right? So the challenge with that group is that they're probably right in that you can look at that bright side and that bright side does exist, right?
Look at the great work we're doing for our community. Look at the great things we did last year or the year before. Look what we've. For, you know, look at this campus and how beautiful it is. They, they're, they're not, they're not spewing lives, but what they're doing is avoiding the problems. They're using that as a shield to avoid the problems that exist and why are they doing that?
I like his second paragraph here is because the problems in healthcare are so big. They're so challenging that we look at them and we think they're just insurmountable. The obstacles are so big, so great. How are we ever gonna get past these?
He goes on. But the practice is bleeding into situations involving challenging, but fully solvable problems, as if wearing blinders somehow makes the world easier to navigate. What does it look like in practice? It's not pretty to put it lightly. Almost every startup or established company in my industry has at some point paid fast sums to marketing agencies to craft glorious sounding mission statements.
Their leaders then wield these statements like talismans whenever presented with evidence of their shortcomings. And he has a couple of examples here. let's see. Your health system just christened a new billion dollar hospital, but it's unleashing bill collectors on the indigent and the leader responds.
Our mission is clear. Patient first. your startup appears to be serving only the wealthiest and healthiest retirees while putting no cost, from the while pulling, no cost from the healthcare. we're proudly committed to doing right by seniors, by offering value-based care. And he has a couple more in here. and you just get, you get the picture of, you know, we, we want to project something outward. So there, there's two aspects of this. One is you wanna pro project something outward to the community. You don't wanna project problems to the community. And so that's one of the areas that toxic positivity comes in.
You wanna make sure that your employees, your staff, your doctors, your nurses, That they're projecting out positively to the community. So you focus inordinate amounts of your communication on the positive, right? So it's, it's, look, look at all these great things. Look at all the things we're doing. The problem with that is you start to become a disingenuous leader because everyone knows that there's challenges.
Your entire staff knows that there's challenges. Even the people in your community know that there are challenges. You know, all they have to do is check into the hospital and they go, man, that was not a, there was a lot of friction in that process. They won't use those words, but they'll essentially say that process was not good.
It was not what I experienced in other places. , right? So they're gonna know it that way. They're gonna know, hey, when the system goes down for 30 days, they're gonna go, wow, my health system might not have a good security posture, . You know? So there's things that are just obvious to your staff and to the community that when you don't address them, you, you come off as a disingenuous leader.
And he talks about some of this. We have to be positive. We have. We have to portray the great work that we're doing in the communities. We have to portray the great work that our staff is doing in, pursuit of our mission. We have to p portray those as often as we possibly can. We want people to realize that we are doing good things for the community, but then we have areas where we have to be realistic.
By the way, I'm just summarizing the article. I could continue to read things and I'm gonna give you some of. Some of the flaws that he says we need to be more realistic on here in a minute, but we have to be realistic. Otherwise, people look at us and say, oh, it, it just doesn't, it doesn't ring true.
This leader is out of touch, I think is the words they would use. And it's, it's funny cuz we see these posts on LinkedIn all the time. We see 'em on Twitter where a healthcare leader will get admitted to a hospital or they'll have to go through the process and they'll say, I didn't realize how bad it.
If I didn't, if I wasn't in healthcare, I wouldn't have known that I could do this or ask for this or do this. And you get a sense of which we do understand how hopeless patients feel when they come into our systems, and it's maybe time to be realistic. Let me give you the three things that such and Jane throws out here in this article.
Article. But let's not pretend these flaws don't exist as I travel the. to conferences and meet with investors and partners. I'm stunned at our ability to talk publicly about everything except the massive elephants in the room. So here's three elephants. Our nation's healthcare spending has skyrocketed for decades, and our health outcomes are flat, and in some cases dropping even further behind those of developed nations.
And yet, healthcare companies are making record profits, literally, in some cases profiting from a higher burden of. next. He has tens of millions of Americans struggle with medical debt and are avoiding basic care even though they're fully insured. And yet until recently, surprise billing was a tactic that was used to bolster the bottom lines of major regional and national healthcare organizations.
And finally, racial minorities are light years behind their white counterparts in terms of quality and quantity of care they receive. And yet we will study the problem for another 30 years before. To take actions to do something about it. In other words, there's an in ornament, inordinate investment and effort being put into making healthcare better, and yet it only seems to be getting worse.
And he talks about, you know, he doesn't wanna paint all leaders with this broad brush, and he has the normal caveats in here. And I, I don't think we should paint all liters with this broad brush, but I think it is. I, he, he gave a name to it and he gave a definition to it that I think. Critical to identify in this day and age, which is toxic.
Positivity is the enemy of progress. It's helpful. Positivity is helpful in progress, but toxic positivity, avoiding the negative, just to focus on the positive because the problems are so big as he defines it. That is going to keep us where we're at today and it's gonna cause us to a. and we have to address the big problems that face us.
And he has these three, but I don't think they're the biggest problems that face us. I mean, yes, they're the biggest problems that face healthcare in our nation, and we need to focus on those things. But you have to ask yourself, what other problems are facing us? Are we losing primary care? Are we losing the battle for primary care?record losses in the year of:
The question becomes, is this the new norm? Have we entered an an, an. Where hospitals are gonna struggle. Do we need to do things, make some of the hard decisions? And you can't do that if you're, you're constantly going, yes, but look, we've, we've done this, we've done this, we've done this. You have to put all the hard things on the table.
You have to look at them. through realistic lenses, and you have to engage the people that can help to craft solutions. You need co-creators in the solutions patients, community members, you know, people beyond that, the, the organizations that are connected with people. So if you're looking to address social determinants, if you're looking to address health equities, There are, religious institutions.
There are, the philanthropy institutions. There are, there's institutions all over your community of people caring people who are connected with those who are disconnected from our health system. You have to connect with them. Clearly you have to listen to the nurses, you have to listen to the clinicians.
You have to listen to the staff because they have solutions and they ha they know what the problems are, and you have to collect those problems and understand them and not just gloss over them with toxic positivity. So again, I love this article. I love his. Boldness in writing about some of these things so that we can put them on the table and have discussions about them.
Again, Sachin Jane Scan Health, forbes.com is where the article is. The title is The Healthcare Industry's Biggest Cultural Challenge as a Name Toxic Positivity.
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