In 1847, the Hungarian physician, Ignaz Semmelweis presented a proposal that would dramatically change health care. His discovered a way to reduce death rates at Vienna General Hospital maternity ward from 13% to 2%. His colleagues, physicians and medical professionals, criticized him and refused to accept his findings…thinking his idea absurd and that it could not possibly be true. In fact, Semmelweis was ostracized, lost his job a year later and died at the age of 47 in an insane asylum!
The great idea Semmelweis had was handwashing! It took 20 more years, when the Scottish surgeon Joseph Lister, who apparently never heard of Semmelweis, elaborated the theory and practice of antiseptic surgery.
Today, we all know the benefits of handwashing, it seems obvious and second nature to many who work in health care but was seen as absurd when introduced. But change can and must happen in our health care system. Our current system is not sustainable. It needs change, change which may seem absurd to our current culture of health care.
Albert Einstein said, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” It’s time to open our minds, to think beyond what we have always done, to what may seem absurd to many, and begin to recreate healthcare.