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PEOPLE

The Power of Prevention with Adventist's Andrew Tam

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What’s the one thing that motivates you? “The Power Series” offers thought leadership insights from industry experts on the “power” of their initiatives in relation to everyday life. In August, General Manager of Adventist Medical Centers – Causeway Bay and Taikoo Place, Andrew Tam talks to us about the power of prevention.

Sometimes, the best problem-solving strategy is to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. It’s simple: if you don’t want to fail an exam, study for it; and if you don’t want to be involved in a car accident, follow all the safety rules. It’s too late when a crash happens.

In healthcare, prevention is particularly important, even though many associate medicine primarily with treatment – that is, when you’re already sick and need a fix. I speak from experience. My career began as a nurse and a perfusionist (meaning I operated the heart-lung machine during cardiac surgery) at Hong Kong Adventist Hospital – Stubbs Road. Much of my training then was about aiding patients in their treatments. But over the years of managing the operating room, I’ve seen how preventive measures such as early detection and intervention could reduce both case volume and the severity of ailments.

I realised that prevention could be the answer to some of the major challenges our healthcare system faces today, which include cost and long queues. As my career shifted towards health service management, I found that, in most cases, prevention was more cost-effective than treatment. A colorectal screening test, for example, is inexpensive, and if you’re diagnosed with colorectal cancer, early-stage treatments are less risky and less costly. Preventive medicine is also about health promotion. When people live healthier lives, they get sick less often, which in the long run helps ease the stress on the healthcare system.
“I see prevention as laying the foundation for growth.”
How do we drive this change towards a healthier society? It’s down to resource allocation. I believe hospitals and clinics are responsible for providing not only treatment, but also more preventive care. So, our new medical centre in Oxford House will essentially be a one-stop shop for health services: from general clinic services to day surgery performed in hospital-standard operating rooms, to health assessment, rehabilitation and lifestyle management.

Taking it one step further, we also want to serve and improve the community,
and not just our patients. We’ll be running lunchtime yoga and stretch classes, wellness talks, music and play therapy sessions, and even vegetarian cooking classes under our lifestyle management programme, which is run by a team that includes a doctor, a dietician, a health educator and a physiotherapist. While unusual for a hospital or a clinic, these are all preventive measures that help ensure a healthy, happy community.

Outside of the clinical setting, prevention is a mindset for me. It’s all about the ability to predict and prepare for potential problems in order to reduce risks, mistakes and losses. Having this mindset prompts us to pay attention to detail, stay cautious and strike for accuracy. At home, exercising and arranging regular physical check-ups are what we do to ensure our family’s health, happiness and harmony. We also organise family gatherings to stay connected because family is an important support network for us. In business, prevention can mean taking measures to avoid losing money – perhaps by doing thorough market research, or having contingency plans.

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The prevention mindset can be vital in specific situations. A mistake in any other company may damage your profit, but mistakes in high-risk environments, such as the operating room or the cockpit, can cost lives. As the general manager of our medical centres, I must prioritise the margin of patient safety. It is this mindset that guides me in resource management, investing in equipment like HEPA filters, which filter the air in the operating room to prevent contamination; and AEDs (automated external defibrillators), in case our patients experience sudden cardiac arrest.

A great management technique that I use to prevent devastating mistakes is called crew resource management (CRM). It was developed by the aviation industry to eliminate human errors that can cause catastrophic consequences. The technique focuses on different non-technical (soft) skills, including co-operation, leadership, decision making and situational awareness. In the healthcare setting, it encourages clear communication and actions. The same principles can be applied in other situations and businesses, too, even if they aren’t necessarily dealing with life-or-death circumstances.

A good leader needs both the prevention mindset and the promotion mindset, which refers to the desire to make progress and grow. Some may think of the former as more pessimistic and restrictive, but risk awareness and management don’t mean limiting yourself from exploring new possibilities and ideas. It just means you need to have plans and be prepared for anything when treading new ground.

I like to view prevention as laying the foundation for growth. Like playing a computer game, we need to make sure we survive first – by not making mistakes that will end the game prematurely – before attempting higher scores and levels. It’s the same in life; if you want to make real progress, you wouldn’t want to be stopped by preventable mistakes in the process, would you?

Preventive care can help create healthier, happier communities. Read about the Power of Caring with Prudential’s Priscilla Ng.


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