2016 yearender

What this editor of books read outside her work in 2016 says a lot about why (and how) we read

Maintaining a list of every book read during the year yielded curious patterns.

It’s a hot afternoon, and I am sitting somewhere by the Arabian Sea, listening to the sounds of the waves crash and recede. The beach is barely 200 metres away but the view is half obscured by a crowd of coconut trees. The wind is swishing through the leaves and their rustling along with the sound of the breaking of waves is sending me into a pleasant siesta. But I have a book in hand that I intended to finish before the year is out, and I must return to it.

Slowly, a sense of déjà vu washes over me. I was somewhere in this coastal belt in 2015, too, at this very time. The books in my Kindle on that trip had consumed me and I had had this same feeling of impatience that I needed to complete them before returning to normal life.

Being an editor in the publishing world means that I am forever reading and mulling over somebody’s writing. So when it comes to reading for pleasure, my choices are often dictated by what I am working on.

This year, as I edited two historical novels, I felt I needed to read more in that genre. As a children’s books editor, new books in this space appear often in my reading lists. Surprisingly, editors hit reading humps too, and for a while no book seems right, none that one can sink into. At those times, I have turned to peers and reviews for recommendations, and tried to figure why certain books are able to pull readers in, what makes them stand out and why should we read what others are reading.

For some reason, in 2016, I decided to keep a record of every book I read. In a long reading life, this is something I have never done. Books have come and gone, and I have only relied on my memory to tell me if I have read one or not. But in this age of record-keeping and sharing, why not for once, see what I have been reading? At the end of the year, this list is also a record of what led me to pick some of these books. What the further purpose of this exercise was, I am not too sure. But I stuck to it diligently, updating the title and author of each book that I completed in a list.

Unforgettable but not lovable

Now, checking my 2016 reading list, I see that I was reading at this time, on some other beach, the four books by Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan series. I started reading them out of curiosity, to see what about them was making everyone gush and enthuse. And sure enough, once I started, I found I could not stop either.

As a reader, I am not particularly disciplined, and reading an author continuously over four books or an entire series at a go is something I don’t do often. But while reading Ferrante, I was in a landscape surrounded by startling blue waters, glinting sunlight, the soft sea breeze turning into fierce mid-day heat and days that died away through spectacular sunsets, and in this alternate world, I read and read, vacuuming up each book and moving on to the next. I remember reading late into the night while all around there was an eerie night silence and only the sound of the sea roaring and being unable to stop myself from finding out about the lives of Lila and Lenu.

Did I love the books with as much ferocity as I read them? Surprisingly, no. I said this later at many fashionable literary lunches and to friends who all looked at me a bit strangely.

I found the books disturbing, deeply political and feminist and the lives within them described grittily, unvarnished by any attempt at prettiness. They were honest books that looked unflinchingly at the characters. And yet I found myself unable to love them.

But that is perhaps the weirdness of books. There are some you can’t tear yourself away from, and their nooks and crannies remain etched in the mind – yet one can’t quite love them fully or even conditionally. Yet in 2016, when a journalist claimed to unmask the person behind Ferrante’s pseudonym, I was quite unaffected. If an author wishes to remain hidden, then the work carries a certain flavour. Why, as a reader, would I want to play around with that?

A romantic interlude

Somewhere in the middle of the year, my list tells me, I hit a sudden spurt of reading light romances. Jojo Moyes was a good find and more than the book that became the movie, Me Before You, the one I liked was The One Plus One. For some reason two of my friends and I read these almost together, passing the books from one to another as we got done, and there was joy in this sharing, not unlike passing around a box of chocolates while watching a late-night movie.

The other book I finally read and one that had been on my to-read list for a while, was Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer. I had read the first few pages of this book standing in a corner of a bookstore a year or so ago. When it was time to go, for no reason at all, I had put the book back on its shelf thinking I would get to it later. I never did, till it came up for discussion in our book club. I found a copy of the book in the local library and proceeded to gobble it down, finishing it in almost one go.

I have now forgotten the names of the main characters, but the story was refreshing, if not a bit unbelievable. And there remained with me the sense of satisfaction at having lain my hands on something I started and then left midway.

Grimmer tales

But as I scan my list, I now find quite a number of books that were quite the opposite of these breezy reads. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi was an unrelenting look at the imminence of death. It was talked about widely even before publication, and I had already read his piece in the New York Times, “How Long Have I Got Left?”. His erudition and ability to look at his life and condition even as he knows he is in the last year of his young life, makes this a deeply sad book that never devolves into unnecessary sentimentality.

There were a few others I read that went into the dark soul of man and our destiny. I discovered Yoko Ogawa, the Japanese writer, with her Hotel Iris. A slim book that I picked up from the library, it managed to hold plenty of horrors ranging from sado-masochism to a love affair bordering on paedophilia.

In fact, I now find many books and authors on this list that I had meant to read for many years and did not get around to doing so. More of Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, and the one I just completed – Stoner by John Williams. The last has an interesting publishing history, one that occurs rarely.

First published in the 1960s, the book had received moderate praise and sales. But in 2003, it was reissued by Vintage and went on to become a huge success, mostly in Europe. A quiet novel, set in an American university about a teacher named William Stoner, it has no grand storyline and is about the life of its protagonist from birth to death. It’s an undistinguished life on the surface, and yet when the story of this life is told, it is full of heartbreak, thwarted ambitions, intense joy and quiet bravery. One can see why the book appealed to so many years after it was published. There’s something timeless about all that it speaks of and the sense of life being a struggle that we have no choice but to submit to, works across time and place.

And the delightful stuff

And finally, the lure of reading crime and Young Adult fiction remained unchallenged. During a particularly bad slump time, I read the utterly delightful Flora and Ulysses by Kate Dicammillio. Similarly, when I needed to get my mind off real life, along came Rick Riordan and his super awesome Magnus Chase and the Hammer of Thor. Oh come on, who doesn’t like a talking sword that sings top 50 pop songs in battle and has the hots for that “hot spear”. Just read it, and it will all become clear.

I galloped my way through a number of Agatha Christies this year, simply because my teenage son was reading them and I realised that there are many I had read and forgotten or just not read. And the one I finally plucked up the courage to pick up? Curtains, Poirot’s last case. I have chickened out from reading it thus far but I think I am grown up enough to handle the book’s ending now.

A welcome discovery of a new (for me) crime writer was Tana French with her Broken Harbour. She is such a gifted writer and her gradual building of the tension and the resolution in this book was sharply done. She had my husband and I searching the shelves of Bangalore’s Blossoms bookstore for more by her. Sadly, there’s not much available and buying the Kindle versions would be a less strenuous option.

So here I am now, back at the beach, digesting a particularly large lunch that has probably decimated the nearby fish population significantly. The caretaker’s wife, where we are now staying, plied us with four different types and preparations and we nodded and ate, stopping only to make appreciative noises. After this, all that remains is to open the book I am halfway through now –Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday – yes, I know fish seems to be a recurring motif in my life right now.

And what other pattern did I find in my book-reading year, now that I look back? That there is always time to go hunting for that half-read book you meant to finish. To go pick up books and authors you have heard of and find out for yourself why you should read them. Get together with other readers and don’t hold back your opinions. Share your books. Visit bookstores and libraries because the hidden gems are easier to come by when you go looking for them, instead of from reading lists and websites.

And that there should always be some fish – fish in the sea, and fish in the books in our shelves – and may the next year bring with it many many days in which to enjoy both.

Sudeshna Shome Ghosh edits books for children and adults.

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.