Greg Mortenson, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, Three Cups of Tea'One Man's Mission to Promote Peace'One School at a Time, is one of the latest fallen, or at the very least, stumbling heroes.' Recent controversies have threatened his life's work to build schools in war torn communities like Iraq and Afghanistan.' Mortenson has been commended by the likes of Tom Brokaw and Bill Clinton.
But according to a recent episode on CBS'' 60 Minutes, Mortenson grossly exaggerates facts, runs a company in disarray, manages resources poorly'you get the picture. So what happened?
All too often, the issue seems to be more about what the public and media do to our heroes, than the failures of leaders. In America, we seem to take great delight in choosing heroes, putting them on pedestals and then knocking them down. We set the bar so high that with 24/7 scrutiny, few humans can maintain that heroic status over time.
Health care is no different.' When we look at our health care system today, have we allowed ourselves to fall prey to the hero complex?' I would have to say, 'yes.' ' ' Our culture has elevated the physician as the hero of health care. We expect and want miraculous treatment and direction from doctors' ' who can and do have a huge impact on our lives ' and disparage them thoroughly when they make even the smallest mistake. '
Health care is no longer sustainable in its current form.' We have to distribute responsibility, share information appropriately and conserve resources to make the best health decisions. It should come as no surprise that discussions about patient-centered care, consumer health and the 'engaged patient' are at an all-time high.
So in the patient-centered, engaged-consumer framework, what happens to the physician hero? For a start, he or she works in tandem with other health care providers ' and the patient' to understand the patient, taking a more all-encompassing view than in the past.' This new approach includes listening, gathering appropriate data and collaborating on a plan in the best personal interests of the patient.'
Do you think physicians will miss the expectations of their hero status? I don't. I think that once the train wobbles back onto both rails, physicians will have a greater sense of accomplishment when the patient and team have collaborated on success.' That 'super hero' burden shouldered by physicians should, as progress is made, be distributed to others on the health care team (with a focus on the patient). Is this a simple solution for a complicated problem? No. It is a framework which serves as a starting point for widespread, necessary change.' Is it realistic that this increasing patient engagement in health care will modify this slippery slope of health care we are on?' ' Absolutely.'
Do I still believe in heroes? Absolutely. But I think doctors can be a hero for a day, then graciously step down off the pedestal and inspire someone else to step up to the challenge. We have to see beyond the attention we love as humans to the collective goal'improved health care. Speaking about Greg Mortenson, Tom Brokaw said it best''that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world.' ' Health care, luckily, has an unprecedented ground swell of these 'ordinary people.'