Slipping Through the Cracks

April 1, 2016

How to stay efficient in radiology, even when no one else is.

We’ve got almost an embarrassment of riches in the health care field, radiology in particular. Lots of smart people, highly educated and trained, who had to out-compete plenty of other similarly capable folks along the way.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve no shortage of ideas about how to meet the challenges and problems we encounter, and for that matter little difficulty in identifying (occasionally creating) new ones. This, it would seem, is a surefire formula for constant progress in leaps and bounds.

I’ve identified two main reasons why that fails to be the case. The first, a topic for other times, is that when you’ve got such a select group, getting them to agree on anything, especially a course of action, is tantamount to the proverbial herding of cats.

The second, and especially frustrating due to its avoidability, is the incredible ease with which things slip through the cracks (lest anyone have wondered thus far at the relevance of today’s column title). A group of capable people such as those referenced above, or even just one of them with sufficient authority, decides what’s to be done, or at least recommended…and somehow, nothing winds up happening.

Communications (voicemails, emails, memos, whatever) get misplaced or forgotten. Items which were supposed to be addressed at meetings fail to get put on the agenda, or get bumped by other things. Outside parties whose responses are necessary for forward motion drag their feet or entirely fail to respond, and are insufficiently pursued by their corresponding insider contacts.

Benign neglect, passive aggressive fumbling of the ball, disorganization, rank incompetence…however and why ever it happens, things that were (or should have been) given a green light suffer the same fate as if they had received a formal thumbs down.

I’ve certainly tried playing the game of keeping after others lest things slip through the cracks on their watch, and sometimes it has paid off…but typically I’ve found it to be an energy draining, disheartening affair with little payoff. Sort of like keeping after a teenager to tidy his/her room. Leading a single horse to water and trying to make it drink can be hard enough, let alone a not thirsty equine team.

So, I try to focus on at least keeping my own house in order. I do consider myself organized and efficient, but hardly foolproof, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to immunize myself against error.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"47265","attributes":{"alt":"radiology to do list","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_5076057163876","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"5552","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 170px; width: 170px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©Rudie Strummer/","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

For emails that need a response or other action, I leave the incoming message as “unread” such that it prods me every time I view my inbox. Voicemails, similarly, remain in “new” status so I’ll have a flashing LED or smartphone icon to remind me there’s pending business; the pleasure of turning these things off is a minor reward for myself when I resolve whatever issue is at hand. Written items (bills, forms, memos, etc.) similarly have a home on top of my keyboard, such that every time I use my computer it serves as a reminder.

Of course, this only pertains to stuff that I can’t dispatch at the moment it first crosses my path, which is my default behavior. The less in my “things to do” list, the more doable it all remains.

I like to imagine that keeping on top of things and never letting them slip through the cracks will eventually wind up on the radar of others who transact with me. Getting back to the musings at the beginning of this column, we’re in a field where it can be hard to stand out on the basis of one’s smarts, skills, or even work ethic. Every edge helps, including a reputation as being someone who can be counted on to get things done.

That includes selectivity in seeking out help, hired or otherwise. If I take on an office manager who lets things fall by the wayside, for instance, it won’t so much matter how well-organized and regimented I am-that manager will likely as not make my operation look sloppy. On the flipside, if I know I have a tendency to miss deadlines and otherwise fumble the ball, but take on super efficient staff (even if at the risk of paying more dearly for them), it might just save me from myself.