What might happen if we unleashed a curious mindset on healthcare quality? Curiosity is that strong desire to know or learn something. A significant number of caregivers are not asking deeper questions. We are not seeking to generate genuine curiosity around an issue to create deeper more sustainable solutions. Payers, accreditation and regulatory organizations don’t appear to ask deeper questions either. We naturally gravitate to easier solutions, but there is a cost.

Patients and families worry that caregivers do not seem to have a genuine concern for them. Physician’s worry too. Physicians report that the focus in modern medicine is not to deeply explore patients’ concerns; instead, they compare their daily work to being in a factory, disconnected from their patients. Some worry that curiosity in medicine is dying. Meanwhile, medical errors are a leading cause of death. There’s some debate on the real number but let’s agree that systemic problems, miscommunication, not-so-patient-centered care, poorly coordinated care, over and under diagnosing, unwarranted practice pattern variation, and lack of accountability leave us with a number that’s way too high. In this environment, curiosity is not a soft skill it is a core competency.

Curiosity: Trait or State?
Most research differentiates two types of curiosity. Trait curiosity – a natural inclination to be curious; and State curiosity –
the ability to become curious. It is this ability to become curious that can be developed. Professor Todd Kashdan, a leading
curiosity researcher, provides practical insight into four components or ingredients of curiosity:

  • Inquisitiveness – the “preference for the new and unfamiliar“;
  • Deprivation Sensitivity – “Recognizing a gap in knowledge and attempting to reduce it”
  • Openness – “taking the view of people other than myself“;
  •  Distress tolerance – the ability to be adaptable, “to tolerate the stress of the new” so that you can and will   act on new learnings.

Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist says our barriers to a curious culture are:

  1. Having the wrong mindset about exploration
  2. Seeking efficiency over exploration.

One study showed that 66% of employees reported that they face barriers to asking more questions at work, and only 22% describe themselves as “curious” at work. Only 12% of workers report that their employers are extremely encouraging of curiosity. When comparing industries, healthcare was labeled a “Laggard”! We were less curious than insurance companies, and barely beating financial services and public administration. We need to up our game; we literally have people’s lives in our hands.

Developing a Curious Culture

Here are some ideas for building a more curiosity driven culture:

  1. Hire for curiosity: Hire staff who want to learn, and then let them!
  2. Increase your diversity of inputs: Ask, “How could something that works over there, work
    here?”
  3. Ask more and better questions: Provocative, open-ended questions. Use outcomes data
    to get you started!
  4. Reframe failure as a tool for learning, and de-shame it: Ask “What could we do better?” or
    “What did we learn?”
  5. Work on tolerating uncertainty: Celebrate and encourage calculated risk taking and experimentation.
  6.  Put Curiosity on display: Celebrate great questions and new solutions.

What if we supported deeper learning and better conversations across more people about what
might make healthcare better? The data shows there is room for improvement. Healthcare providers,
let’s get our curiosity on!

Blog contributor: Johan Smith, Vice President of Health Informatics, Mental Health Outcomes, Horizon Health