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Critical thinking approaches can make hospitals safer, Broad College expert to tell state medical conference-goers

By Omar Sofradzija, communications manager

Avoiding tragedy may be considered simple luck. Then again, luck is preparation meeting opportunity, or so an old saying goes.

Having a critical approach to making decisions, solving problems, and ensuring reliability can result in far more consistent positive outcomes than luck alone, and in the healthcare industry it can help save lives.  Michael Rip, a professor in the Department of Management and founding director of the Broad College MS in Healthcare Management Program, will share such insights at a Michigan Health & Hospital Association conference later this month.

Rip will co-present a session titled “Critical Thinking for High Reliability” at the MHA Patient Safety & Quality Symposium in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Sept. 18–19. He will be joined by Mark Vroman, a battalion chief with the Meridian Township Fire Department in Okemos, Mich., in outlining why critical thinking and related techniques are important to problem-solving and decision-making.

“My work revolves around using critical thinking as a foundation for higher reliability, or achieving higher reliability, or embarking on a higher reliability journey,” Rip said. “Many of the major hospitals in the nation are beginning to tackle this very thorny problem of patient and staff safety in the hospital where they are operating in a very complex environment, and there are many opportunities for error, from simply falling down to killing patients on the operating tables.”

Other disciplines with no real margin of error like the aviation industry “have paved the way in showing organizations how they can better orient themselves, train themselves, and be completely dedicated to trapping error, because it will happen,” Rip said.

“We obviously want to prevent it from happening, but we have to have robust systems, organizational and personnel systems, to trap mistakes and not let them propagate and end up in a catastrophic or tragic outcome,” Rip said.

“One of the missing pieces, from my perspective, has been that while the hospitals have paid a lot of attention to practical things like checklists, having weekly or daily scrums to review near-misses and errors and so forth and their successes of course, one of the things we know from neuroscience and cognitive psychology is that a large amount of these errors are happening unconsciously, because we are not that observant,” Rip said.

“There is a significant foundation of neuroscience to explain why this is all happening,” Rip said. “My focus has been on thinking about how critical thinking as a disciplined, structured way of reasoning can assist and provide a floor upon which they can build their higher-reliability operations.”

Rip’s work is a central tenet of the master’s in healthcare administration program he helped design at the Broad College. That program launched this fall. Designed to appeal to professionals in varied healthcare-related fields, it will ground students in management principles, strategic thinking, and innovation.

The program “is really oriented toward providing best practices to the students so that they will acquire the very best business acumen to function in a modern healthcare setting as top-level administrators or even mid-managers,” Rip said. “One of the things I think we will be able to do is provide [assistance to] a group of people who traditionally not have been able to even begin seeking this kind of education and training simply because they were not able to access universities full-time.”

That’s because the first-of-its kind course will be offered online.

“There are many mid-career professionals who simply can’t give up two years to go do a master’s degree,” Rip said. “By coupling the accessibility by being online and then at the same time providing them top-quality people from a ranked business school with a singular focus on best practices for business and business acumen, I think we’ve achieved sort of a sweet spot in the marketplace.”

“There are many top-notch programs around, but they typically are face-to-face or are being offered from a healthcare setting … (where) the emphasis is really from healthcare-trained people who are trying to obtain business acumen,” Rip said. “We are approaching it from a different direction. We are coming with the business acumen and then are in fact providing them with the healthcare perspective.

Like with Rip’s MHA presentation, the program will have an underlying focus on critical thinking.

“One of the missing elements of many graduate programs, particularly in professional degrees such as our healthcare management degree, is that students are often thought what to think, not how to think,” Rip said.

“While people have discussed the importance of learning how to think and the rise of modern neuroscience and how we better understand how the human mind works for decision-making and problem-solving and learning, this is not really translated to tertiary education,” Rip said. “I’ve tried to arrive at a point where we have a training program teaching students how to think … in a very applied way.”

For more information on the master’s in healthcare management, visit the program’s home page.


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