Canadian Health System Crisis: Bold Leadership and Allowance for Risk Taking

Change in healthcare is notoriously incremental and slow. Some of this is due to healthcare being a safety-critical industry. And there are many other well documented and debated barriers, including governance, payment & funding models, Canada’s geography, to name a few.

Smart people are dedicated to tackling these barriers and there are examples of thoughtful projects underway across the country. Despite these best efforts, we are still in the midst of a health system crisis. We can’t wait for these barriers to be artfully dismantled before taking take decisive action. The most important next step is identifying great leaders, and offering these individuals a public allowance for risk taking.

Careers can not be ended nor reputations ruined for taking risks. Too many strong, public sector leaders in healthcare have left the industry because they have been sharply criticized for not realizing 100% of intended outcomes. "No human being can possibly foresee all the consequences of an innovation, no matter how obvious they may seem in hindsight.” (HBR, 2013)

How can we expect change without disruptive leadership and innovation? These two things require risk taking. This is deeply uncomfortable and counter-intuitive for many health system leaders and operators who are praised and rewarded for controlling or eliminating risk. It is also deeply frustrating for those who are trying so hard to make meaningful change in an industry that so desperately needs it.

Everyone has a personal experience with our healthcare system. We are quick to praise when it works, and deeply impacted when it doesn’t. This crisis in Canada will get much worse, and our stories even more egregious, if we don’t make decisions where the risks are weighed against the reward. There is much that can be done faster, without compromising safe, high quality care. We must encourage and allow our health system leaders room to make these bold moves.

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