What healthcare can learn from a rock ‘n’ roll club: People, process & culture
Guest post by Andy Cook, MHA
On a perfect Saturday evening, 2,500 people gathered under the façade of the legendary First Avenue music venue for a concert to honor and memorialize Prince. Midway through a classic Prince tune, a Hennepin EMS ambulance drove past on 7th Street with its siren perfectly in tune with the band. This was just chance, of course. But it also made me think about what healthcare can learn from a rock club.
Maybe I’m unique in seeing this connection because I live in both the healthcare and music worlds. By day I am a manager at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), overseeing Neurology, Sleep Medicine, Pulmonary, EEG & EMG. On evenings and weekends, I am writing, recording, and playing shows along with my friends and bandmates on the music scene. It is a privilege to collaborate with the musicians and artists that I do—they inspire me with their skill and creativity. It’s also a privilege to work at HCMC, and my colleagues there inspire me every day with their own skill and compassion.
Living in these two worlds has shown me that a rock show and clinic visit require the same elements to be successful: process, people, and culture. It starts with having processes in place that make for a smooth execution of tasks. Those tasks are done by people, and it is imperative that those people are engaged, supported, and fulfilled. And last, both the people and the processes contribute to a culture, even a mystique, around the place where it all happens.
Let’s start by digging a little deeper into process. About an hour into the Prince Memorial Concert, one of the mic stands for the drum kit failed. A stage tech immediately yelled out to another tech that he needed a mic stand. The second tech went behind the stage to a case labeled “Mic Stands,” and inside the case were compartments organized—and again, labeled—by size and type of stand. Within ninety seconds the new stand was on stage, the mic and cable replaced, and the full kit back on the grid. This is exactly how supply management can—and often does—happen in healthcare. Necessary items are stocked, labeled, readily accessible, and easy to find. At a show, malfunctioning equipment and delays can impact both the players and the audience, taking away from the experience. In healthcare, malfunctioning equipment and/or delays can likewise be a detriment to patient experience—or worse, to quality and safety.
A solid process supports people doing a great job, yet there’s more to it than that. Being around First Ave for the Prince show and many others, I have witnessed the pride and passion people feel in working at such a venue. Having that logo and the word “staff” imprinted on their shirt means something. So, too, does having HCMC’s logo on your badge or shirt. Our job is to bring our best selves to work each day—whether that be an indie rock show or an internal medicine clinic. It’s a two-way street so the organization also has to support and engage its employees.
By engaging its employees, a dialogue occurs between the organization and its people. Sometimes those people go above and beyond. For example, after the Prince show where I provided tech support, I accidentally left behind a bag with cables, tuning pedal, and tools. A member of the First Ave staff found it, labeled it with a date, and secured it in the offices upstairs. The next morning I had a message asking if it was mine, and that it was there to be retrieved. Maybe there is a process for what to do with lost items, but the bottom line is that someone went out of their way to 1) determine it was not a part of stage gear, 2) put it somewhere safe, and 3) make sure it got back to the owner. That’s what I call engagement.
Finally, there’s the culture and mystique of an institution. First Avenue, for example, is legendary. It is without a doubt one of the top rock clubs in the country, with artists and fans alike singing its praises. There’s something special about being at First Ave, an intangible yet perceptible sense of place and importance. In healthcare, this is equally important. When patients and families walk in the door, they need to feel safe, cared for, and confident. Certainly much of that comes from processes and from people. But that can also come from the institution itself. Is there a history that can be highlighted? Or perhaps a special role in the community to celebrate such as a safety-net hospital or academic/research institution? As patients receive care at a hospital or clinic—just as when bands and concertgoers play and listen at First Avenue—that pride and community significance can be transferred to them too.
Sure, a rock club and a healthcare facility are pretty different things. But what makes them run successfully aren’t all that dissimilar. By building and re-building effective processes, having the best people and engaging them, and leveraging the history and mystique of an institution, a healthcare organization can be to its community what First Avenue is to the music scene: notable, critical, and desired. So let’s plug in, tune up, and get playing.
Outside of working as an administrator at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), Andy Cook is a local musician and was tech support for a member of the band at First Avenue’s Prince Memorial Concert.
(Band Photo Credit: Mariah Crabb)