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Inertia in healthcare: Overcoming resistance (friction)


Inertia can manifest in various healthcare scenarios where established traditions and routines hinder the adoption of new approaches.

roadway with speed lines | © knssr - stock.adobe.com

© knssr - stock.adobe.com

Inertia, a fundamental concept in physics, refers to an object's tendency to resist changes in its state of motion. Interestingly, this principle can also be applied to the healthcare profession. Just as objects at rest tend to stay at rest, medical practices and systems often resist change. In this blog, we will explore the concept of inertia within the healthcare profession, drawing parallels to Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion, and discuss specific medical examples where inertia hampers progress. Medical professionals can drive positive change and improve healthcare outcomes by recognizing and addressing inertia.

Inertia can manifest in various healthcare scenarios where established traditions and routines hinder the adoption of new approaches. For example, surgeons may be reluctant to embrace innovative surgical techniques due to the comfort and familiarity associated with traditional methods, despite evidence supporting improved patient outcomes.

Many physicians continue using the same medications and treatments they used during training. Inertia can be observed in the prescribing habits of physicians, as they might continue to prescribe certain medications even when newer, more effective options are available.

Medical professionals may refrain from adopting advanced diagnostic and therapeutic technologies, such as AI-assisted imaging or genetic testing, due to concerns about inertia and being forced to leave their comfort zone.

Healthcare systems, characterized by complex hierarchies and bureaucratic processes, often exhibit inertia that impedes progress and innovation. Despite the potential benefits of electronic medical records, the transition from paper-based systems to digital format can be met with inertia. Resistance to change, implementation challenges, and data privacy concerns can hinder the adoption and optimization of EHRs.

Inertia can be observed in the slow pace of policy changes within government and healthcare systems such as the American Medical Association and our specialty organizations. Regulatory guidelines from the government, including the FDA, are slow to adapt to new medical advancements and may impede the introduction of innovative treatments and technologies.

Inertia reaches nearly all aspects of medicine, including continuing medical education (CME). The availability and participation in CME activities have, until recently, continued to focus on attending expensive meetings and lectures. We have been slow to adapt to 24\7 learning to establish criteria for continuing education. Some facilities and practices have limited pharmaceutical representatives to provide educational material. However, the material may be biased. Inertia can be seen in the reluctance to engage in lifelong learning, which can limit the integration of emerging research and best practices into clinical care.

Overcoming inertia

To overcome inertia in the healthcare profession, promoting a culture of continuous improvement and embracing evidence-based practices is crucial.

Strategies might include:

  • Encouraging healthcare professionals to stay updated with advancements in their field through accessible and engaging educational programs.
  • Encourage research and dissemination of evidence-based outcomes to evaluate and adopt new interventions.
  • Healthcare institutions can foster a culture that encourages innovation, provides resources for change, and facilitates collaboration between departments.
  • Encouraging policymakers to proactively adapt regulations and policies to accommodate emerging technologies, treatments, and best practices.

Bottom Line: By recognizing the concept of inertia within the healthcare profession and understanding its impact, medical professionals can take proactive steps to overcome resistance and drive positive change. Embracing innovation, evidence-based practices, and interdisciplinary collaboration can improve healthcare outcomes, enhance patient experiences, and create a more responsive healthcare system. Wouldn't Isaac Newton be impressed that his third theory of motion is applied to the healthcare profession?

Neil Baum, MD, a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Baum is the author of several books, including the best-selling book, Marketing Your Medical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, which has sold over 225,000 copies and has been translated into Spanish.

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