Breaking the ‘fix-it habit’

31 May 2017 | By Amanda George

In health care, our passion for patients can sometimes lead us to jump right in to a situation armed with ready-made solutions. Jo, the Lead Associate for health at Helen Sanderson Associates, calls this the 'fix-it habit'. In this post Jo talks about why this habit can lead to problems – and how we can get out of it.


If 30 years of working in and with the health service as a nurse and trainer has taught me anything, it is that, what I would refer to as the ‘fix-it’ approach to treating patients is one of the biggest problems that we as practitioners face in being more personalised in our approach to patient care.

Throughout our training we are taught to go in as experts, armed with ready-made solutions to the problem at hand. Health care professionals are driven to help, and our passion for our patients leads us to jump straight in to solving the problem, rather than thinking about who may be affected, and the consequences it could have on them and their lifestyle. Unfortunately, we often slip in to the habit of forgetting that what we are treating is not an illness, but a person.

Although subconsciously we can often categorise our patients based on their health condition, we need to remember that each individual being treated is exactly that: an individual. Although they may be the same in terms of health conditions, they each have different things that are important to and important for them, which need to be taken in to account when determining how to treat or support them.

By ascertaining what really matters to the individual and the way in which they like to lead their lives, you could go some way to eliminating the risk of having a non-compliant patient. By taking the time to think about how you can tailor your treatment plan to the individual at hand, you are in a much better position to choose a solution that will work for the patient, both in terms of keeping them happy in the way that they live, and in keeping them healthy by treating their illness or supporting them in managing it on a day-to-day basis.

Important to vs. important for

If you do not know what is important to your patient, you do not know whether your suggested solution will sit well with them. A treatment plan may look good on paper, but in their situation it maybe out of context. When applied to each patient, it may change, and a treatment or support system that may have looked ideal to you before will now show all of its flaws. One way to do this is to use the ‘Sorting important to and important for’ tool. This tool is one of the fundamental person-centred thinking tools that provides the backbone to much of our work. Using this person-centred way of working with a patient can prevent us from jumping straight into fixing it.

Important to / important for

It is comparable to a tailor making a garment for a customer. They need to take the customer’s measurements to ensure that the garment produced fits their individual body shape. Using generic measurements means that the item of clothing would not necessarily be suited to the customer, and what looks good on one figure can look horrendous on another. In the same way, what works well for one patient may not be appropriate for another.

The fix-it habit is just as easy to break as it is to slip in to. Using the four steps below, you can change your approach towards patients in to one that is much more person-centred.

Breaking the 'fix it habit': step-by-step

  1. Determine what is important to the patient, and what is important for them. You can use your knowledge and expertise to work out what is important for their individual condition, and speak to the patients themselves to get an understanding of what is important to them. One-page profiles are very helpful in doing this, as they paint a picture of the patient and who they are as a person.
  1. Take a breath and analyse the current situation. Use ‘Working/not working’ to decide what is good about the patients current situation, treatment plan or support system, and what needs to be changed.
  1. Develop clear outcomes. What does the patient want to achieve from this? What is the ideal scenario for them?
  1. Only then do you offer a solution, the ‘fix it’, based on your knowledge of the patient as a person and what they want to achieve, as well as what you know will offer them great support.

Jo is the Lead Associate for Helen Sanderson Associates’ work in healthcare, including Personal Health Budgets. Connect with Jo on Twitter @JoHarveyHSA or email if you have any questions about person-centred approaches to healthcare.

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