Have you ever had a nightmare you’re running late? Recently I dreamt I was seeing patients on a ship, a little cruiser like the ones that give you tours of Boston Harbor, with low ceilings and narrow iron stairs. My nurse stood where what would have been the coffee and danish window. My first patient was a newborn (this was a nightmare, in case you forgot) who was enormous. She had a big belly and spindly legs that hung off the table. Uniform, umbilicated papules and pustules covered her body. At the sight of her, terror ripped through me – no clue. I rushed to the doctor lounge (nice the ship had one) and flipped channels on a little TV mounted on the ceiling. Suddenly, my nurse burst in, she was frantic because dozens of angry adults and crying children were crammed in the hallway. Apparently, I had been watching TV for hours and my whole clinic was now backed up.
Running-late dreams are common and usually relate to real life. For us, the clinic has been busy lately. Vaccinated patients are returning after a year with their skin cancers that have flourished and psoriasis covering them like kudzu. In particular, they “see the floor” better than other docs and therefore make continual adjustments to stay on pace. At its essence, they are using super-powers of observation to make decisions. It reminded me of a podcast about court awareness and great passers in basketball like the Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball and NBA great, Bill Bradley.
Bradley had an extraordinary ability to know where all the players were, and where they would be, at any given moment. He spent years honing this skill, noticing details in store windows as he stared straight ahead walking down a street. It’s reported his peripheral vision extended 5%-15% wider than average and he used it to gather more information and to process it more quickly. As a result he made outstanding decisions and fast, ultimately earning a spot in the Hall of Fame in Springfield.
Hall of Fame clinicians similarly take in a wider view than others and process that information quickly. They know how much time they have spent in the room, sense the emotional needs of the patient and anticipate the complexity of the problem. They quickly get to the critical questions and examinations that will make the diagnosis. They know the experience and skill of their medical assistant. They know the level of difficulty and even the temperament of patients who lie ahead on the schedule. All this is processed and used in moment-to-moment decision making. Do I sit down or stand up now? Can I excise this today, or reschedule? Do I ask another question? Do I step out of this room and see another in parallel while this biopsy is set up? And always, do I dare ask about grandkids or do I politely move on?
By broadening out their vision, they optimize their clinic, providing the best possible service, whether the day is busy or slow. I found their economy of motion also means they are less exhausted at the end of the day. I bet if when they dream of being on a ship, they’re sipping a Mai Tai, lounging on the deck.
For more on Bill Bradley and becoming more observant about your surroundings, you might appreciate the following:
www.newyorker.com/magazine/1965/01/23/a-sense-of-where-you-are and freakonomics.com/podcast/nsq-mindfulness/
Dr. Benabio is director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at email@example.com.