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Much more than a minimum bar to meet, standardization is our foundation for elevating the level of care and outcomes for all patients.
No matter one’s profession, expertise, or experience level in a given field, standardization sets a baseline of knowledge we can all understand. By uniting a community around a set of standards, we find something we all agree upon: a place where everyone can find a starting point for their commitment and performance.
For sonographers like myself, standardization lives both closely and at a distance: When we hold ourselves to a high level of performance, each practitioner seizes the opportunity to not only enhance the immediate experience of their patient but elevate the understanding of care in our global community.
Why Does Standardization Matter to the Current State of Health Care?
For some, standardization can seem like a minimum or an essential bar to meet. This is its simplest impact, creating an exact point of entry into a professional community. Young learners grow and evolve from this point over time, accruing increasing momentum, expertise, and respect in the field. Yet they all begin at the same place and build upon the same consistent foundation. Whether piloting a plane, cooking fantastic food, or treating critical ultrasound patients, we work better together from that common ground.
In the current state of health care, the impact of standardization can be staggering. Over the years in our field, sonographers, such as myself, have seen too many instances of patients being referred to secondary care at another lab or clinic without a commitment to high standards, thereby lacking quality of care. The impact on a patient’s health trajectory can be shocking. Many days, our practice can boil down to resolving situations that have simply been missed by others.
These experiences cost patients valuable time and incite frustration, ultimately degrading trust and impacting quality of life. In some cases, the absence of standards can direct patients on an entirely different course of treatment for a disease. It can even lead to loss of life.
That said, the impact of applying standards creates equally intense and exciting results. For global populations, standardization can open conversations about essential training and patient care. As an example, through the Inteleos Ultrasound Proficiency Grand Challenge, we have the chance to welcome critical health interventions to places in desperate need. With only 17 percent of mothers receiving critical ultrasound support in low resource populations, the Proficiency Grand Challenge is an opportunity to make a huge impact.
How Can Standardization Elevate Our Profession and Professional Relationships?
Standardization sets expectations. Simple, right? Yet the complexity of its impact on our relationships reaches well beyond those three words: Standardization draws us all into one conversation, facilitates clear communication, helps communities determine and agree upon assessment metrics, and establishes accountability to ourselves and each other. It sows the seeds to earning critical trust within any field or industry. Licensed drivers, qualified educators, and certified accountants use standardization and certifications to invite a level of essential trust in their relationships.
There shouldn’t be any exceptions to the rule for health care professionals. After all, patients know the difference. Their perception of care is different when they believe the standards are higher. They feel better in moments when they’re already anxious. They feel valued. A patient can tell when he or she is receiving a higher standard of care. It impacts a patient’s confidence and faith in his or her health-care experience. Even in the event of a bad outcome, that confidence paired with compassion allows us to make a huge difference in patient care.
How Does Standardization Lay The Groundwork For Superior Practice, Both at Home and in Our Global Community?
At its heart, standardization aims to drive the professional conversation. We share and agree upon knowledge and best practices, we work to train new learners, and we collectively improve our craft. No matter how simple these practices may seem, their specialized nature is critical to successful performance. If there’s something you don’t know or never learned, you simply don’t know it. For sonographers, this may mean missing a critical imaging detail or producing a picture without holistic value. In addition to this, not having complete and proper clinical information can cause missed diagnosis.
Proper use of equipment, access to training, and consistent guidelines for interpretation impact every sonographer in every community. We are all one village in one conversation with one goal. We are global stewards of high-quality, consistent patient care, and it’s our responsibility to uphold and share the information, expertise, and resulting standards that bring us together. Just because practitioners are working in underserved communities, that doesn’t mean they can’t provide quality care nor does it mean that standards cannot influence and elevate their practice. As members of this community, it’s our job to demonstrate what that means, what it should be and what it can be for all of us.
What Role Does Standardization Play in How We Build the Future?
As medical professionals, we have to make peace with the fact that we’ll never know everything about the human body. Yet, we already know things we never thought possible and this knowledge improves lives every day. I have yet to stop learning in my career, and I hope that day never comes!
Standardization unites our work in a shared conversation. The resulting training and certifications bond our field and strengthen our work holistically. Our patients, our institutions and our peers are better able to understand and value our expertise, allowing us to build relationships based on genuine trust.
Today, we have a unique opportunity to further that conversation, bringing better quality of care to all communities around the world and elevating the entire medical system for all patients. We’re moving modern medicine forward and standardization is a critical tool to help us do it.