What baseball can teach healthcare about purpose, ethics and teamwork

As far as baseball analogies go, the comparisons between America's favorite pastime and healthcare are remarkably strong, as described in a recent commentary by Robert Pearl, M.D., CEO of The Permanente Medical Group and the MidAtlantic Permanente Medical Group, in Forbes.

A key distinction, however, is that hospitals and healthcare providers don't have the luxury of beginning each season anew with a clean slate, as do ball players, which is all the more reason, he said, that medicine should heed the following lessons:

  • Stay true to purpose. While the game of baseball has welcomed innovations such as instant replay, the structure of the game has remained virtually unchanged, as has a typical score, noted Pearl. In healthcare, it's crucial that advances in technology, ability and medical knowledge be built upon the foundation of the Hippocratic Oath and the physician-patient relationship. Otherwise, the industry risks the public's willingness to entrust healthcare providers with their lives.
  • Do the right thing. Both baseball and healthcare have seen their share of scandal, with greed representing an ongoing common denominator. But medicine must work to maintain the integrity of the industry even when regulatory loopholes or exemptions might leave room to compromise patients' best interests. For example, "Congress has given baseball an exemption from the restrictions on anti-competitive practices," Pearl wrote. "In return, baseball has taken care to avoid abusing this privilege. Medicine must heed this lesson."
  • Be the team that people want to join. Even before team-based care became a formal movement, healthcare relied on a composition of people doing their part to run healthcare organizations and care for patients. Today, the healthcare industry is learning how much more it can achieve by breaking down silos, as demonstrated through the results of better operating room communication, patient-centered medical homes, inter-department collaboration and other initiatives. The effort hospitals put into building great teams also helps attract top talent in today's ever-competitive marketplace, he said.

To learn more:
- read the commentary