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LNCtips.com: The Power of Analogies

As you know, an analogy is a comparison between two things that have something in common but are otherwise dissimilar.  One of the most common analogies in medicine is the comparison of the heart to a pump.  My favorite analogy has nothing to do with medicine, law, or legal nurse consulting.  Instead, it involves a refrigerator, a stove, and a budget meeting, but I think it will show you the power of using analogies.

In the mid-1990s, I was a chief nurse executive who wanted to help my nursing directors with their budgets.  The directors were responsible for submitting budgets that addressed targets for census, nursing hours per patient day, total salaries, and salary hours per patient day for their nursing units.  This was a daunting task for some of the directors.  They knew that they needed certain numbers of RNs, LPNs and nursing assistants each shift but translating their staffing patterns into financial terms was difficult.  I created an Excel spreadsheet with the blessing of the budget department.  The spreadsheet was complex but very easy to use.  The directors simply input their staffing pattern, and the spreadsheet generated projected nursing hours per patient day, salary hours per patient day, and total salaries.  If the spreadsheet showed that the unit was over or under budget, the directors could change the staffing pattern and a few other parameters to meet projections.  Instead of endless meetings with the budget staff, the directors could create a budget within a short time.

Unfortunately, there was a problem with the directors using the spreadsheet.  They didn't have computers. In order to use the spreadsheet, the directors had to use the computers of other non-nursing managers.  When I requested computers at the budget meeting, I was sure that the budget committee (all of the upper echelons of administration and the finance department) would approve the computers.  However, the committee denied the request because the members didn't want nursing directors to "sit at their desks all day" using the computers. 

After thinking for a bit, I used an analogy about refrigerators and stoves.  A refrigerator runs all the time, but people use a stove sporadically.  However, both are essential parts of a kitchen.  Financial people sat at their desks and used computers all day, like a refrigerator that runs all day.  I told the committee that the nursing directors would use their computers like a stove.  The directors needed to use computers sporadically, but when they needed to use them, they needed to use them right then.  When people need to cook, they need to cook at certain times.  People don't want to go to their neighbor's house to cook, and the directors didn't want to continue to use the computers of other managers.

Do you remember those cartoons in which a light bulb turns on above the cartoon character's head?  I saw that happen with everyone in the budget meeting.  The president of the healthcare system got a big smile on his face and said, "I think your nursing directors just got their computers."

Just like the story of the refrigerator and the stove, analogies can be powerful tools to explain medical concepts to attorneys.  To get started, check out the analogies at Altoona List of medical Analogies.  Anatomy, physiology, medical conditions, and treatments are second nature to legal nurse consultants.  By using analogies, you can help attorneys understand the aspects of medicine that are difficult to grasp.  The attorneys can then use your analogies to help juries understand the complexities in their medical malpractice cases.

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...Katy Jones