Len Schlesinger

Intentionally Designing Patient And Caregiver Roles As Jobs

Q&A With Len Schlesinger

What attracted you to the BIF Summit?

It’s pretty simple. I met Saul (Kaplan, Founder and Creative Catalyst at BIF), and he sketched out the vision of what he was trying to do with the BIF Summit. There’s nothing more fun for me than trying to get at the concepts buried in stories. I view it as an essential part of teaching and speaking.

The notion of no PowerPoint, no talk that had been given before (which wouldn’t work), and the need to figure out a way to get ideas across in the form of stories seemed very natural to me. And it’s actually more fun to listen to other people’s great stories than to give mine.

Tell us just a bit about the subject of your BIF Summit story.

Last time I spoke at the BIF Summit, I wrote a whole new story in the parking lot when I got to the Summit. That story had two main points: first, an apologia for large organizations and a deep and a profound desire to ensure that in the quest for a start-up oriented nation, we don’t throw away assets we have; and second, ranting about healthcare.

Since then, most of my intellectual time has gone into healthcare. In my last talk, I spoke about taking care of my mom as the hardest job of my life. And the job was made all the more difficult by the fact that no one in the healthcare system recognized it was a job or treated it like it was a job.

If we are ever going to improve outcomes in healthcare and dramatically increase the ability to take costs out positively from healthcare, we need to understand that patients and caregivers have jobs. Those jobs have to be intentionally designed, and designed so people can win.

So, at the Summit, I’ll tell a handful of stories designed to illustrate this problem. First, what it would look like to treat patient and caregiver roles as jobs? Second, what it would take to do that?

I’ve been working on a large-scale research study with doctors. From that I’ve found that, despite the fact that we talk about value in healthcare and the nature of the partnership between doctors and patients, more than half of the doctors in my study believe they don’t have all they need to take care of patients, and feel the patients can’t take care of themselves.

The folks on the Mayo Clinic’s research team spent some time a couple years ago talking about the unpaid work of the patient and focusing on all of the things that doctors and healthcare systems do that unknowingly impose time and economic burdens on patients. We haven’t treated being a patient like a job and put in the reinforcements to make it happen.

According to Scripps, we already have all the diagnostic and mass customization tools to design healthcare for individuals and not populations. We could sketch out a world where patients had jobs and did their jobs.

What, to you, is the value of sharing stories?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone around the world giving academic speeches, then someone asks me to speak at another conference and says, “make sure to tell the story about your father.”

Our culture is shaped by stories. People remember stories, they don’t remember slides. Talking about new ideas without talking about stories is an aimless exercise. That’s what makes BIF wonderful.

Do you have a motto, or “words to live by”? If so, what is it?

I do believe that at the core, you should really recognize that your life is going to be extraordinarily difficult if you don’t get to spend at least part of your day doing what you love. If you get to be with people you love and do things that you love, life can be pretty easy.

I’ve been lucky in that I have a short attention span, and I get to be in an environment where I have the right to be curious about anything, under the guise of being an academic. All I am is an observer who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I enjoy a great deal making observations. Beginner’s mind is the right way to play it. You know you’re doing great when everyone tells you “you don’t understand.” I’m just gonna keep not understanding.

What one thing (or more, if you like) would you like Summit attendees to know about you before they hear your story?

In addition to worrying about patients, since I was last at the BIF Summit, I now have three more grandchildren. It is very clear to me that everything they say about being a grandparent is true. It’s a marvelous stage of life.