The Pursuit of Perfection in Healthcare


Blog post by Joe Babaian

Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well. ~ Shakespeare

The best is the enemy of the good. ~ Voltaire

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without. ~ Confucius

This week on #hcldr I want to take a leap into the pool of our pursuit of perfection in healthcare. Who doesn’t want to always seek the most effective cure, the best experience for every patient, the happiest and most well-adjusted compassionate staff?

We’ve found ourselves in a competitive environment of more. The drive to do more is the genesis for some of the greatest innovations we’ve ever seen. We begin to stumble when we feel we must always achieve more no matter what the consequences – when the outcome is all that matters.

The horror of clinician suicide resulting from burnout or moral injury is just one side effect of the drive toward perfection. Many argue that this results from the drive toward efficiency – pulling every possible bit of value from clinical staff; in other words, perfect use of resources.

End of life experiences mirror this slippery slope. We’ve been conditioned to do everything we can to live without examining what type of living we want, or in the case20696006 of the treating clinician, what type of living the patient wants and needs. A powerful must-read article is “Letting Go. What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?” by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker. Of course many will recognize this article as a precursor to Atul’s seminal work published a few years later, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. If you haven’t read the book, stop what you’re doing and grab a copy!

In no way should our quest for success, however we measure it, be made feeble by dodging hard work in the name of avoiding the dangerous pursuit of perfection. Hard work, grit, and not a small dose of empathy and compassion are always required.

Let’s pause and take a look at how we can achieve success without melting our wings by flying into the sun. What are the ways this is important for us, our families and communities, as well as our patients and organizations?

Please join me on Tuesday, September 24th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) for the weekly #hcldr tweetchat where we will be discussing the Pursuit of Perfection in Healthcare.

T1: How have you been faced with the choice of pursuing perfection or accepting “good enough” in your personal and professional lives? How did it turn out?

T2: What lessons have you learned from setting realistic goals and working towards them vs. pursuing perfection at all costs?

T3: If we work to avoid perfectionism, how can we assure that cutting-edge innovation isn’t stifled? Is this a mixed message?

T4: How can patients, families, and clinicians work together to provide the best end-of-life experience that reflects realistic and compassionate care versus “doing everything?”

Main Photo Credit:  Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

References For Further Research

Curran, Thomas, and Andrew P. Hill. “Perfectionism Is Increasing, and That’s Not Good News.” Harvard Business Review, Jan. 2018.,

Gawande, Atul. What Should Medicine Do When It Can’t Save You? July 2010.,

Greene—Zapier, Jessica. “When You Should Aim for ‘Good Enough’ Rather than Perfection.” Fast Company, 9 Aug. 2019,

Herrera, Tim. “It’s Never Going to Be Perfect, So Just Get It Done.” The New York Times, 7 July 2019.,

Neville, Amanda. “Perfectionism Is The Enemy Of Everything.” Forbes, Accessed 23 Sept. 2019.

“Perfect Is the Enemy.” Harvard Business Review, Oct. 2018.,

Perfection Is the Enemy of Profitability | LinkedIn. Accessed 23 Sept. 2019.

Peters, Mike, and Jenny King. “Perfectionism in Doctors.” BMJ, vol. 344, Mar. 2012, p. e1674., doi:10.1136/bmj.e1674.

Zipkin, Nina. “Mark Cuban: ‘You Only Have to Be Right Once.’” Entrepreneur, 29 Sept. 2016,

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