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Constructive Criticism

I am inclined to write this post after reading a recent article written by a respected Paediatrician in Malaysia, Dr Amar Singh, which alluded to the fact that the child health services in the nation are struggling due to lack of financial and human resources. I am not going to reiterate what he wrote (you can read it here), but I must say that I am intrigued by his opening statement in the article.

“In Malaysia, there is a tendency to shoot the messenger that brings bad news, especially in government.”

Dr Amar Singh

Honestly, I cringed when I read that statement. I desperately hope that what he said is not true. But like many others, I too have heard this statement multiple times before. Clinicians’ in the public healthcare system fear that they’ll suffer some form of consequences if they voice out their concerns or criticisms to the healthcare administrators due to the ministry’s track record. But do not despair. What follows Dr Amar’s opening statement does provide a ray of hope.

” I am encouraged to write this because of recent comments by our health minister under our new Pakatan Harapan government who has asked us to speak up and share the truth. He has encouraged dissenting voices and constructive criticism.”

Dr Amar Singh

I tend to agree with him on this. I believe it is true that healthcare administrators are now more open to constructive criticisms than they were before. There are many engagement sessions with the new health minister and his team to address issues that clinicians were too afraid to speak up about before. There is also an increasing number of articles written by doctors in various media for the same purpose.

Promotes Collaboration & Creative Solutions

Listening to the doctors’ worries about the condition of the healthcare services will naturally bring about attempts to improve the situation. Involving them in the subsequent improvement efforts will inarguably promote a collaborative culture in the healthcare system. In addition to that, tapping into the clinicians’ vast experience can often generate creative improvement solutions. As more and more clinicians offer their constructive criticisms, perhaps more out-of-the-box solutions will materialise.

Quality Improvement (QI) & Performance Enhancement Tool

Constructive criticisms (positive or negative) allow us to recognise our current positions relative to the goals that we have envisioned for our organisations. It informs us whether our previous efforts had finally paid off OR that there is still room for improvement. Therefore, it goes without saying that constructive criticism is a vital QI and performance enhancement tool from which all other concerted efforts arise. It is the first step that we must take, no matter how insurmountable it may seem.

“The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.”

Helmut Schmidt

Although the benefits of listening to constructive criticisms from those who serve patients (as stated above) may be obvious, the reason why we should really pay attention to them may not be as evident. I’ve listed a few important reasons below.

It is Evidence-Based

I believe criticisms that clinicians put forward are more often than not, evidence-based. We often see them make clear their concerns with supporting facts or data. Their training had equipped them with the skill of finding evidence (in the form of investigation results to support diagnosis and/or scientific data to support research hypothesis) and they are not wrong to make full use of it. It is our duty to take heed the evidence that they show for issues that are of concern to their patients as that will only do good for everyone involved.

Patients’ Best Interest

If you read Dr Amar’s article, you get the sense of disquietude that he has about the state of the child health services. That reaction is commonly shared among doctors and other healthcare professionals because their professional ethics dictate that they must always have patients’ best interest at heart. So, no matter who their patients are, you can always expect doctors to speak up about issues that may expose their patients to sub-optimal care. Surely, the least we can do is to listen to them.

I’ve made my case, so can we stop shooting the messenger, please?

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

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