Commentary

July 12, 2013

Getting details right matters

Col. LAURA PLACE
56th Medical Group

“If we can’t get the simple things right – patients worry about the rest of care.”

My Medical Corp Chief, Brig. Gen. Daniel Wyman, spoke those words at a quality and patient safety meeting several years ago, and the words continue to resonate with me.

In the Air Force medical service our patients’ health is our priority and providing first-rate health care is our mission.

However, it is difficult for our patients to know if they are getting high quality medical care as they are not typically familiar with the latest medical research or clinical studies. Our patients trust that the medics will get it right, and they use whatever means they can to validate this trust.

Do we greet them sincerely at their appointment? Do our medical technicians take their vitals and review their history diligently? Are the exam rooms clean? Do the providers listen attentively to their concerns? Are their consults available at the time of the appointment? Does the staff call them back when they say they will? And on and on. If we don’t excel at the routine tasks, how can our patients trust us with the big things – the life or death issues? First impressions matter. Details matter.

These words speak not just to the medical community but are also applicable to Airmen. Substitute the words maintainers, logisticians, food service workers, and pilots, and the meaning is the same. If I can’t trust you with the small, seemingly unimportant, tasks, how I can trust you with the big?

I was recently reviewing resumes for a civilian position that we are looking to hire. In today’s economy with good jobs difficult to secure, one would expect that significant time and attention would be paid to a resume. And yet, more than one of those resumes had typos and grammatical errors. If these men and women couldn’t get it right on something presumably that was important to them, what kind of work can I expect out of them in the future? Will this lack of attention to detail continue in their new job? Is this behavior a pattern for them or an unlucky mistake? First impressions matter. Details matter.

Lastly, Lt. Gen. Robin Rand made a similar analogy during his remarks at an officer’s call here a few weeks ago. He noted that it becomes a slippery slope when you overlook small instances of unprofessionalism or lack of discipline. These seemingly little issues become new standards by default and allow unwanted behaviors to escalate.

He was relating a lapse in standards by some as a contributing factor to the current sexual assault problem that we have in the military, but I would argue that the same could be said about more mundane problems as well.

Details matter not just to individual Airmen but to supervisors as well. We are continually sending messages to peers, bosses, and customers by the way we act, speak, and conduct ourselves whether intentional or not. What first impressions are you making with your work and attitude? Are you sending out the message that you are trustworthy and ready for the next big job? As supervisors, what standards are you allowing to flourish by your action or inaction? Can your Airmen count on you to enforce discipline in both big and small ways?

Details matter.




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