March 31, 2020

Are Healthcare’s Sacred Cows Being Tipped?

Clinician Leadership | Leadership Development

Reading Time: 2 minutes

You’ve heard of cow tipping, right? Frat boys pass their initiation hazing by sneaking up on a sleeping cow and pushing it over? I recently spoke to two healthcare executives who assure me it’s real.

So, I consulted the Internet, our ever-trustworthy Source of Truth.

“The evidence against cow tipping is immense and backed up by both farmers and the laws of physics …. but the simplest bit of proof we can point to is YouTube.

While in the history of the world there have surely been a few unlucky cows shoved to their side by boozed-up morons, we feel confident in saying this happens at a rate roughly equivalent to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.”

(Borrowing from Dumb and Dumber, this sounds like a one-in-a-million possibility of love that translates into So you’re telling me there’s a chance!!!”)

Continuing …

“YouTube, the largest clearinghouse of human stupidity the world has ever known – where you can watch hours of kids taking the cinnamon challenge, teens jumping off rooftops onto trampolines, or the explosive result of fireworks set off indoors – fails to deliver one single actual cow-tipping video.” 1

Many other sites reach the same conclusion: cow tipping just can’t be done.

Nevertheless, the stories of cow tipping still abound, and for some very curious reason I find myself wanting to believe in the possibility of the unprecedented!

That’s why I encourage my healthcare leader friends to pay attention to how the current pandemic is creating an unprecedented opportunity to tip over some of healthcare’s most Sacred Cows.

Have you noticed how quickly regulatory bodies are waiving the strictures of EMTALA for dealing with triaging patients?  Or how HIPPA considerations are being set aside to permit broader telemedicine interventions?

Not too long ago, our immediate impulse when presented with a new idea touching one of these was “Oh, you can’t do that because [fill in your favorite regulatory injunction].”  In other industries, a novel idea attracts interest and curiosity that can lead to innovation.

In healthcare, our Sacred Cows instead cause us to respond with immediate suspicion. We are trained to go by the book, to trust past experts’ opinions, comply with regulations, and avoid risk. All well-intentioned. Yet, it’s no wonder clinical innovations historically take 15 years or more from the bench to the bedside.

Now I sense things are changing. Just this morning I read a report detailing how 1 ventilator can be adapted with common hoses to serve up to 4 patients at the same time. The comments were full of curious insights and references by providers from Spain to Mass General.

A month ago, I doubt the comments would have reflected any serious consideration of the idea.

What if this pandemic truly becomes a defining moment for healthcare, like 9-11 was for air travel? What if healthcare becomes much more open to innovation because of it?

Attention is the currency of leadership. Pay attention to what’s changing: the tipping of our sacred cows. They may create game-changing opportunities for a fresh wave of unprecedented innovation in healthcare!


Modern Farmer, “Cow Tipping: Fake or Really Fake? “SEP 04, 2013, Jake Swearingen

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About the author

Eric P. Norwood, LFACHE, PCC

Eric P. Norwood, LFACHE, PCC is a trusted, experienced advisor to C-Suite leaders, helping them improve their performance individually and corporately. He is a catalyst for change for his clients.

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