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Can you measure the science in the art of presenting? #WILTW

This is the 182nd #WILTW

It’s been a busy morning, you’ve got e-mails to catch up on and a report due in imminently. But you don’t want to let down the presenter at the lunchtime teaching session so you grab a sandwich and find a seat at the back of the seminar room.

Regardless of content what’s likely to grab your attention for the next hour and what isn’t?

It’s with this in mind a paper I read this week on quantitative analysis of slide presentations caught my eye (found via this article). It’s a review of talks from an ophthalmology conference where various potential metrics of presentation quality were compared to overall audience feedback. There were only 17 presentations and the evaluation ‘rubric’ was an amalgamation of perceptions of value and quality measured via a 4 point scale (1 – low to 4 – high). While there are some inherent issues with using this scale as a gold standard the metrics reviewed covered a wide range of potential influences on presentation quality.

Ing et al 2017 Quantitative analysis of the text and graphic content in ophthalmic slide presentations Can J Ophthalmology 52;2 171-174

Only the number of slides per minute, with higher scoring lectures showing a greater average (3.07) than lower scoring ones (2.17), were associated with a difference. Given the number of metrics evaluated, this difference may have occurred by chance so I don’t think anyone should rush away and add in extra slides to their already crowded presentations!

Fair play to the authors for looking for concrete reproducible techniques with which to improve lecture quality. However I suspect even they would have been surprised if they’d found the magic bullet with this approach. The challenge is the components of a good lecture can often be described but less easily defined. Ross Fisher has been championing an approach to the delivery of the better presentation called P3 (story x supportive media x delivery)

Seems as if fretting over font size, graphics and your text density probably isn’t where the good presentation is going to come from!

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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Related post: Is your powerpoint slide teaching or are you?

Be brave, acknowledge our failings #WILTW

This is the 181st #WILTW

If you are frequent blogger it’s easy to experience deja-vu.

I got that sense having been invited to an “innovation leadership” event. It was better than it sounds [a note to organisers that sadly cynicism has made the juxtaposition of these words an oxymoron in many peoples’ minds] but I started the event badly as I couldn’t let a  bug bear of mine go unchecked.

“I’ve rallied against this topic before” I thought. And I have, back in December 2013 before I was even regularly using #WILTW.

The below is the blog “We must never forget what we have failed to do“. I am re-sharing as although there has been some progress (our trust has moved forward to newer digital solutions and my bespoke work-a-round is no longer needed) so much still stands. Have we really learnt the lessons of the past of what went wrong or are we just developing different ways of not being able to provide solutions?

Last week I attended the latest King’s Fund Medical Leadership Network/Development event. These bring together a number of clinicians and managers of varying degrees of experience. There is a focus on outcome, rather than just being talking shops, and there is a clear aim to increase the number of those attending who are early in their careers.

One of the talks was from Prof. Rory Shaw, the Medical Director of Health Care UK. This organisation aims to bring NHS healthcare expertise to the world and establish partnerships that will be beneficial for the UK economy. Prof Shaw was quite open about the questions this raises and some of the challenges to be faced. My interest peaked however in respect of NHS expertise in digital healthcare. It is an interesting paradox that many worldwide healthcare services don’t have access to, or any clear plan to develop, some of the initiatives and expertise which exist here. The concept of a universal number, for example,  is something that is taken for granted in the UK but is not present at all in many other healthcare systems. However from my point of view, a young (but potentially naive and impatient) junior doctor, there is nothing particularly brilliant about our digital systems. Very recently I was involved in a case where the failure to have access to the healthcare information of a patient presenting to a paediatric emergency department may well have resulted in harm to the patient. This was not an individuals fault, it was the fault of the absence of an electronic system that can share information about patients throughout the country.

I was pretty vitriolic about this at the conference, and despite furtive glances and frowns from some members of the audience, will remain so about this. It is not an excuse to say we tried that and it didn’t work. The simple fact remains that most members of the public remain extremely surprised that we are unable to access electronic records in one vicinity but not another. Even worse it remains a cause for concern patients can frequent numerous different health care providers  without any of them knowing anything about these visits. This isn’t about being a ‘big brother’; it’s about managing risk for vulnerable patients and ensuring patient safety in a system which harm if often to easy to come by.

What then are we to make of the failure of the National Programme for IT in the NHS? One argument is that we have moved on, a new initiative for developing local solutions and then joining up, being more pragmatic and ultimately more achievable. There are still large costs involved though as the government’s recent announcement of a £1 Billion fund for Emergency Departments emphasises.

Appreciating it’s sometimes easier to judge rather than action, I have been working hard locally towards an electronic integrated illness identification system for children (POPS)  which is now used in other centres and could ultimately be used to compare acuity rates between emergency centres. This solution had to bypass NHS IT and is not the safeguarding safety net that is desperately needed.

It is vital that we remember where we have been in the past and what we haven’t achieved. There are many people and organisations passionate about improving the digital infrastructure of the NHS, and Tim Kelsey is clearly keen on making progress. It is likely solutions will eventually be found but we must honest about our past failures. It would be equally disastrous, probably more so, should further Berwick and Francis reports be needed, but unfortunately history demonstrates we often fail to learn.

Extolling our strengths is fine, acknowledging our failings much the braver thing to do.

So to those at #innovationleadership I apologise for stating that we don’t really care about patients, because I know we do. But we must persist in being honest. The right things to do are often the most difficult and we definitely haven’t got everything right yet.

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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Can you be satisfied with a longer wait? #WILTW

This is the 180th #WILTW

The standard for defining emergency care ‘performance‘ in the UK is the four hour target. It is really important this is not confused with average wait to be seen. The target is the time taken for a decision to made on your disposition, essentially either admission and discharge, and this action carried out i.e in x % of the time patients should be admitted or discharged within 4 hours where x has been between 90-95% at various points.

A debate in the BMJ sums up excellently the pros and cons of this measurement. It is no secret that my hospital’s Emergency Department 4 hour target performance has been consistently at the lower end of the national average for some time. It was therefore pleasing to see this week that recently released figures from August showed our Friends and Family test (FTT) rating, the proportion of patients visiting your service who would recommend it to their friends and family, was the highest of 17 similar sized services.

Certainly the FFT is not an exact science and it has a great number of detractors. For example there probably is a relationship between response rate and overall recommendation as the FTT is collected via a form handed out to patients as they leave. If your response rate is abnormally high or low compared to others, does this say something about the quality of your care in itself? The responses are also aggregated for the whole department but larger departments are made up of different areas: majors, injuries, children etc. which may vary between each other and potentially aren’t comparable. For example is a parent answering on behalf of a child the same type of experiential response as an middle aged person answering for themselves?

However you would expect longer times to a definitive disposition to generally relate to a poorer experience so I think locally our staff should be proud of their efforts. Dependant on your point of view this does raise an interesting, or challenging, question. How does satisfaction and experience relate to performance and how should we interpret their interplay?

A blog from CanadiEM this week highlighted some surprising research showing concentrating on patient satisfaction resulted in increased hospital admissions, increased drug and total healthcare expenditures and increased mortality. The explanation is that evidence based medicine often clashes with expectation (the patient doesn’t need antibiotics but wants them) and when the clinician favours ensuring satisfaction above best practice the outcome is not ideal for anyone.

This demonstrates that quality is not uni-dimensional and that we still have a long way to go to creating a suite of measures that describe the care provided in a way that is meaningful and valid for all.

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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Peri-Shift Mindfulness #WILTW

This is the 179th #WILTW

Mindfulness, compassion and burnout

Three words which have only recently become accepted as legitimate terminology in medicine.

We need to work towards tighter universal definitions to ensure the terms are not mis-used, or become consigned to leadership “buzz-word bingo” status. There is something inherent in the word ‘burnout’ that implies the driving factor is the individual themselves. While clearly some people could improve their own coping strategies or mindsets, it shouldn’t be a process where resilience (itself a term that implies some may be weaker than others) is the sole responsibility of the individual.  It’s good to see organisations are already introducing initiatives to help staff, and one might hope that there is a shared strategy between individuals, departments and hospitals in the future.

One of things I’ve become increasingly conscious of is “of the moment‘ personal awareness.

Clearly long term strategies to ensure that you remain healthy and engaged in work are vital. However the concept that an individual shift can challenge your resolve is familiar to all, regardless of speciality or profession. As winter arrives I realise there are a number of approaches to consider (acknowledging very easy to promote “do as I say not as I do” thinking)

Pre-Shift Preparation

I aim to have a quiet ‘period’ 15 minutes before the beginning of any clinical shift. Trying to avoid last minute e-mail replies or phone calls stops you coming on shift distracted about events you then can’t control or respond to. The ideal is listening to music (easier when driving into work on a late shift) as this tends to clear my head. The team at St. Emlyn’s have suggested some tracks to listen to.

In-Shift Awareness

This is the most difficult to prepare for as the more challenging the clinical environment becomes, the more it feels you are less able to take care of yourself when it in fact is increasingly important that you do so. Even 5 minutes of head space is vital if you have been constantly focused for a prolonged period.

Take other’s hints about this, if someone asks you (especially the nurse in charge) whether you have had something to eat or drink, it’s not just your stomach they are inquiring about. They may well be noticing your behaviour is changing and giving you a gentle nudge.

Another important insight is knowing the difference between when you are truly processing information and when you are procrastinating. The former is the natural passage of time used to maximise available information and determine treatment plans appropriate to the patient’s trajectory of illness. The latter is not acknowledging either cognitive overload or tiredness (both normal issue regardless of your experience) and delaying inevitable interventions as you work out what to do.

Post-Shift Practices

Your reflections on your shift will have consequences for your attitude to future shifts. An emotionally demanding shift will will be remembered more negatively  if you finish late and are rushing home or to another appointment. The stress that this causes combines with the stress of the shift. This isn’t the easiest thing to counter-act but it’s important to separate the two. One may cause the other obviously but the resultant emotional impact it has on you is multifaceted and needs to be acknowledged as such.

Cold debrief with a hot drink (a chat with a colleague over coffee in the canteen days afterwards) may alter your internal perceptions about what went wrong or was frustrating to you. This is vital to avoid long term build up of resentment about a particular situation.

I am sure there are other things that are important to consider, react to or reflect on. The key is awareness of your own awareness as it were…

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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Resuscitation Communication: Text or Twitter? #WILTW

This is the 178th #WILTW

One of the joys of being involved in our simulation programme is the constant stimulus to improve your own practice, especially in the grey area of leadership and communication

The critically ill child poses a logistical dilemma. There are various body systems that simultaneously need attention: the airway, the circulation, the neurological system etc. Life threatening illness is unstable and this means those systems may respond to treatment, or they might not. Either way it is possible they may require further intervention at a future point. The systems also interact with each other; sometimes in series (only by tacking one problem can you solve another) and sometimes in parallel (simultaneous collapse requiring completely different management approaches).

Imagine different members of staff, both medical and nursing, needing to interact with each other in a co-ordinated fashion, delivering medications which are dose dependant (you need to make sure you give the right amount or the patient will come to harm) but also time critical (take too long drawing them up and the patient will come to harm).

The ability to orchestrate a team around a child is an art. There are some skills you can be introduced to, and some common approaches to take, but when the manure hits the proverbial fan, especially if you are working with people you may have never met before, there is not a textbook to rely on.

Ensuring the patient is receiving enough oxygen,

and that they are breathing effectively,

and that someone is drawing up some fluids while someone else is drawing up some antibiotics,

and that you’ve not missed the fact they are low on glucose,

and that you can’t hear yourself think because a monitor is alerting you to the fact that the heart rate is dangerously low

and that two phones are ringing to let you know that the CT scan is ready but that theatre won’t be ready just yet,

and someone curses because they’ve not been able to get a cannula into the child for the third time,

And then you realise you’ve not even updated a terrified parent let alone your team.

Experience brings with it the ability to determine courses of action swiftly, delegate tasks effectively and decisively communicate multiple instructions without needing to raise your voice. But there are still times when you wish time would just stop and you could Matrix style weave yourself through the scene checking each system in sequence and collating information in a non hurried fashion.


There is no one best way to manage the communication cascades that develop but there definitely patterns that emerge and as a thought experiment the digital era has offered us some comparisons..

For real control you could adopt a text messaging approach with each individual submitting questions and receiving answers only from you. This  means no mixed messages and would make sure people don’t get overloaded with tasks i.e. deliver blood transfusion before sending/receiving next message. The problem is that the team leader is left with a list of messages to answer and the rest of the team don’t know what has and hasn’t been actioned.

Straight line communication can only be seen by those at the ends of the line

It might be that e-mail would facilitate more than one individual knowing what was happening at any given time. A reply to all function would allow everyone to see the questions and the answer. Email makes it difficult to scroll through though conversations quickly though..

Arrows indicating these communications can be seen by all participants

Conversely a WhatsApp communication channel would keep everyone up to speed in a visually accessible way and allow team members to delegate tasks amongst themselves. However leadership of a this group would be challenging especially with messages flying in every direction…

All communications can be seen by all participants.

You could try a Twitter approach with the team members only allowed to follow the team leader and not each other, using #patient to allow for global updates. This would enable short pithy communications but runs the risk of errors when complex decisions are required.

Arrows indicate communications seen by all, Straight lines only by those at the end of the lines.

While clearly we are not about to see teams, face down, looking at their phones during resuscitations, the analogy demonstrates the complexity of communication management required.

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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#helloyournameis Mum? #WILTW

This is the 177th #WILTW

Future generations of healthcare professionals may well look back at the #hellomynameis campaign and wonder why anyone would need reminding to introduce themselves. Having had over 1,500 million impressions, and 80,000 contributors through twitter alone, it clearly is an important topic.

In the same way I probably make about 80% of my management decisions within 15s of walking into the cubicle (child’s appearance, combined with clues from monitoring devices and body language of parents) it is very likely children, parents and carers make similar rapid judgements of my professionalism and skill as a doctor. Clearly if you fail to introduce yourself then you have already started off on the wrong foot.


Interestingly research highlighted in this week’s Bubble Wrap (please do follow this monthly journal round up!) examined parental preferences of greetings by medical staff. 137 parents were sent a questionnaire to determine what clinical staff had previously called them and what they would like to be called. Nearly 80% recalled being called Mum or Dad. The authors made the odd decision to not have “my own name” in a list of what parents would like to be called but from the remaining options it appears parents would prefer to be called Mum or Dad (as opposed to Mummy or Daddy). Personally, calling anyone Mummy or Daddy would make me very uncomfortable, so I am glad this didn’t emerge as a winning salutation!

Hidden behind the etiquette of how someone should be addressed is the even more important point of who the person actually is. Regardless of how often you are told at medical school, you only truly learn to definitely establish who is Mum and Dad when you have assumed that someone else is. The outcome of this error ranges from embarrassment to a potential safe-guarding issue. While the simplest way round this is to just ask; there are more subtle ways as well:

Would love to hear from parents and carers about what they would prefer to be called!

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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Tighten up your safety net #WILTW

This is the 176th #WILTW

Assume = to make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

Assumption is my enemy.

I can’t assume in a hectic resuscitation that an instruction has been heard unless it is confirmed back to me. I can’t assume relevant clinical signs have been identified when a patient is discussed with me and I can’t assume I always make the right diagnosis.

A further challenge when you become an autonomous practitioner is that it’s much more difficult to determine how your colleagues practice. The assumption is you do things in a similar way but you never really know this. It’s part of the reason why I enjoy immersing myself in Social Media. It’s a great way of determining and sense-checking what other people do.

Safety-netting, the provision of information to help patients or carers identify the need to consult a healthcare professional if a health concern arises or changes, is an important intervention where there are probably many different ways of saying the same thing.

The assumption is that there is a common approach but recent conversations lead me to believe this may not be the case. If only to start a debate, I’ve determined the 5 principles I use to structure my safety netting advice.

Avoid enacted criticism – Your advice is about the future trajectory of illness not implying what the parents or carers could have done to have avoided seeing you in the first place.

Establish the process of making a diagnosis is a partnership – This is what you have told me and this is how I have interpreted it, so this is the suggestion for what we are going to do. I often quote a comment a parent/carer has made about their child’s illness. This demonstrates I have been listening and am interested in addressing concerns. This phase is important as this sets the scene for the key component of safety net advice..

Explain the natural history of the disease process if your diagnosis is correct – one of the worst things to do is suggest that typical symptoms of the illness you have diagnosed could be worrying. A child with gastroenteritis will vomit and have diarrhoea.

If he vomits bring him back” is NOT safety net advice.

“…your little guy is likely to continue to have vomitting and diarrhoea. If he remains well in himself, is drinking the amount of fluid we have discussed and is having wet nappies then he is unlikely to become dehydrated” is more useful.

Explain what the features of illness will be if your diagnosis is incorrect or the disease process worsens – I am very clear to parents  that 24 hours is a long time in a small child’s life, the decision to discharge is based on the features of illness now. These may change.

Openly ensure shared understanding. I directly ask if the parents or carers are happy with the decision that is being made. It is rare to be caught out at this stage, but I still find some clinicians seem unable to read parental body language, so I always suggest my juniors do this.

I don’t assume that this is a perfect approach, and certainly there will be individual nuances at a patient level. Would love to hear from others about their approaches.

What have you learn this week? #WILTW

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