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What's missing from the annual physical

Posted Apr 18 2012 5:01pm

by Kenneth H. Cohn

Last month, seated in the examining room, I filled out the paperwork while I waited for my doctor. I updated my problem list, then the new medications and finally the review of systems. We chatted for a few minutes about how both of us were doing, exchanged commentary on the overall state of healthcare and then he motioned to the johnny on the examining table as he left the room.

When he reentered, before he did the physical exam, I said, "One question was missing on the forms I just filled out." I could tell from his body language I caught him by surprise.

"What is it?" he asked.

"What are you grateful for?" I answered.

I took my cue from his pause. "Three things: My family and I are in great health; I paid my last college tuition bill three months ago; this is an exciting time to be a thought leader in the area of healthcare collaboration."

He smiled and said, "You are the first to bring that up, but you’re right. People bring in problems, but need to be prodded to reveal what is going well for them."

My mentor, Sam Horn , taught me that the practice most closely associated with happiness was gratitude. Kelly O'Neil encourages her students to "find the gift in unexpected helplessness." In " The Success Principles ," Jack Canfield encourages readers to focus less on events and more on their responses to events to improve their outcomes.

As healthcare leaders, what do you think:

  • What questions do you think doctors should ask patients more often?
  • Do you believe happiness is associated with gratitude?
  • Would anything change if, starting with medical school, we expected physicians to ask us, "What is going well for you and what do you feel grateful for?"

Ken is a practicing general surgeon/MBA and CEO of, who works with organizations that need to engage physicians to improve clinical and financial performance in this era of healthcare reform. His latest book, "Getting it Done," celebrates healthcare heroes who broke down silos and improved care for their communities. Please learn more about what he does by visiting .

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