Everyone interested in learning how we learn, should read Daniel Kahneman’s recent book “Thinking Fast and Slow”. I have read a great deal of his work before, and I find it amazing to read something that actually explains the way that your brain works. It makes some sense that you can improve the way you make decisions by understand the way you decide.
The book and the generally accepted concept is that we think in two ways, System 1:intuitive (fast) and System 2: slow and deliberate. Much fast thinking occurs without our awareness of the process. This includes deciding someone in the lane next to you on the highway is about to do something stupid, realizing someone on the phone with you is angry, etc. Slow thinking is the reasoning and weighing of options that we traditionally associate with decision making. In medicine, problems occur when people learn to make bad decisions intuitively, leading to cascades of errors that often leave the person cleaning up with few options.
This is why it is so important to do the following with novice care providers:
1. Make sure you and they agree on the importance of a few basic principles. While it is possible to drill this into someone’s head, even if they don’t accept the reasoning, that is sub-optimal, and that knowledge will probably break down under pressure. Think of anything you have “learned” but that you never really understood (string theory, financial accounting, differential equations, the loop of Henle) and you know that you might be able to figure out the right answer to a question about one of those subjects, but your knowledge is shallow and can get confused very easily. If students don’t understand why airway should come first, it can be dangerous, especially if bad decision processes get ingrained.
2. Practice, practice, practice – you need to bring that intuitive decision making up in the light of day and look at it. The only way is to make people to think fast, and the only way to do that is to put them in situations or simulations that make them think under pressure. We all know it is rare for someone to function effectively in their first high pressure situation, but unfortunately that first high pressure situation may occur with someone’s health and recovery at stake. So its imperative when training to try to determine if your students really “get” it. If they don’t get it, try to figure out why, go through it again, and then look them in the eyes and say “got it now?” and then test them on it one more time. In essence this is what we do on rounds every day, first people do things because we tell them to, then they grudgingly realize that what we say to do makes sense, and then they understand it and teach those things to the next group.
This is also another reason why unneeded variability is so counter-productive. If you do things different ways for no valid reason, people will get confused and think that the process is essentially random. If they get that in their head, it can be difficult to break. We can’t standardize everything, but we should standardize the first 10-15 steps in any algorithm. That way things can get going along a solid path.