Atul Gawande (who is a genius) has written a lot of brilliant stuff (articles, books) about performance and how to improve it. I’m coming late to the party – a few months ago he wrote a piece about the medical response to the Boston Marathon bombings. (Three people died immediately, but all those who were alive when the paramedics got to them survived, which is staggering). Here’s a bit of his article, emphasis added by me.
There’s a way such events are supposed to work. Each hospital has an incident commander who coördinates the clearing of emergency bays and hospital beds to open capacity, the mobilization of clinical staff and medical equipment for treatment, and communication with the city’s emergency command center. At my hospital, Stanley Ashley, a general surgeon and our chief medical officer, was that person. I talked to him after the event—I had been out of the city at the time of the explosions—and he told me that no sooner had he set up his command post and begun making phone calls then the first wave of victims arrived. Everything happened too fast for any ritualized plan to accommodate.
So what did you do, I asked him.
“I mostly let people do their jobs,” he said. He never needed to call anyone. Around a hundred nurses, doctors, X-ray staff, transport staff, you name it showed up as soon as they heard the news. They wanted to help, and they knew how. As one colleague put it, they did on a large scale what they knew how to do on a small scale. They broke up into teams of six or so people, one trauma team for each patient. A senior nurse and physician stood at the door to the ambulance bay triaging the patients going to the teams. The operating-room director handled triage to, and communication with, the operating rooms. Another staff member saw the need for a traffic cop and began shooing extra clinicians into the waiting room, where they could stand by to be called upon.