Seeking 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

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare still shines with all its successes and still bogs down in the areas needing critical change, innovation, and redesign. Just consider the dual need for success and speed under which the first two approved COVID-19 vaccines in North America were developed. The “need for success” combined with mRNA technology has turned vaccine development on its head. Having it NOW was a rallying cry to save lives during this pandemic. What about other parts of healthcare where traditional measures of success might be a more complex understanding? Will we consider redefining success in ways that create more human outcomes?

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.

Enhanced during this pandemic, the horror of clinician suicide resulting from burnout and moral injury is just one side effect of the drive toward doing it all. Clinicians across the board have driven themselves to do everything humanly possible during the pandemic. Their training and compassion drive them to save as many people as possible. In non-pandemic times, 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, January 26th, 2021 at 8:30pm ET for the weekly #hcldr tweetchat where we will be discussing the Seeking Perfection in Healthcare.

T1: Share how you have been faced with the choice of pursuing perfection versus accepting “good enough” in your personal and professional lives. Did it turn out how you expected?

T2: What lessons have resulted from setting realistic goals and working towards them vs. the pursuit of perfection/”cure” at all costs?

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

T4: How might patients, families, and clinicians work together to provide the best end-of-life experiences that reflect realistic and compassionate care versus “doing everything” at any cost?

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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