Only Human | Podcast Review | December 28, 2015 | By

Only Human: “Putting Care Back in the ICU”

My favorite Only Human yet.

This is easily my favorite Only Human episode to date.

I feel it necessary to provide some disclaimers to highlight the fact that this episode may not be for everybody: hospitals make me feel incredibly comfortable; a main project of mine during grad school examined quality assurance measures in hospitals; and for a long time, I thought I wanted to be a hospital administrator, a goal motivated by the recent changes and initiatives discussed in this very episode.

This episode starts us off with an introduction to the SIC-U (surgical intensive care unit) in Johns Hopkins. This unit is where the sick post-surgical patients go to continue recovery. It’s critical to understand that just because a patient survives surgery does not mean that he/she has survived the trip to the hospital. Surgical recovery can be, and often is, incredibly dangerous, and may require extensive monitoring to ensure that certain surgery-induced ailments, such as infections from central lines or thromboembolisms from blood pooling (or sitting for too long), do not occur.

Hospitals all over the country have been trying to prevent these very avoidable (although sometimes controversially measured) side effects. Johns Hopkins has implemented initiatives to try to prevent as many of these issues as possible. To bring these initiatives to light, host Mary Harris interviews Dr. Peter Pronovost, which is BEYOND exciting to a huge health quality nerd like me. Dr. Pronovost became famous through the publications of celebrated health journalist Atul Gawande. Gawande brought to the medical field limelight Dr. Pronovost’s research on the impact of simple checklists. These checklists have been shown to drastically decrease infections and other avoidable/unwanted surgical side effects, and have somewhat altered the way that hospital administrators approach quality management.

Johns Hopkins also has implemented a really cool quality assurance platform by means of Project Emerge, which is a simple goal-oriented system that keeps every single person on the patient’s team on the same page in terms of recovery. This is awesome, and does a great job of answering to one of the biggest complaints about health care in the US, which is fragmentation and inefficiency when dealing with multiple doctors, nurses, or other health care providers. Additionally, this project is awesome because it incorporates not only the doctor’s ‘goals’ in terms of medical recovery, but also the patient’s goals. For example, if a patient expects to be able to go to Disney World after surgery, and writes that down as a goal, the doctors are therefore able to make sure that the patient has the proper expectations of what a timeline looks like. The project offers and integrated, holistic approach to recovery.

Additionally, the project makes patients feel more human. It seems counterintuitive in theory, but in reality most people understand hospitals to be very sterile, impersonal places. The irony of the impersonal nature of a building which is based on the foundational goal of improving life is palpable. So, when a software makes a patient feel more engaged in his or her recovery, recovery is much more pleasant for all parties involved, including the caretaker. Everyone wins.

I love this project, and I love that Only Human talks about this project.

About the Author

Annie Ungrady is a writer at Audiologue, where she writes a weekly column called Podcast Perusal with her impressions of classic podcast and radio episodesYou can email her at

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