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The “F” Word

“Failure” is health care’s “F” word. Admittedly nobody likes to fail but many leaders, successful companies and entire sectors have learned to not only accept failure but to expect and celebrate it.

Many of us will remember basketball star Michael Jordan talking about his failures in this high profile advertisement; Dr. Danielle Martin recently highlighted the annual Failure Report written by Engineers Without borders during her Ontario-based TEDX talk; and there are numerous private sector companies who have adopted an “Fail early, Fail often” approach. There is a growing literature practical and theoretical about failure…but very little of it from the health care community.

If we are going to commit to continually improving the quality of care for Ontarians then we must be ready to start doing more to safely and routinely embed open discussion of failure in our culture. This includes not just issues that occur at the clinical coal face, but also at the system level. In the effort to improve our system we are routinely trying new models, new structures and new processes. Not all of them work but those that do get highlighted at innovation fairs or written up in journals and those that fail are simply ignored.

On March 4th Health Quality Ontario, in partnership with Women’s College Hospital, is hosting a conference on the “F” word. We will be learning from other sectors, hearing from a patient and listening to the failures of great system leaders. We’re also holding an interactive “FailFest” where all participants will learn to talk about their failure in a way that is constructive and that will enable them to use all of their experiences—not just the successful ones—in their efforts to transform the system.

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