Sharks and Healthcare: A Sea of Inspiration and Innovation
This year marks the 31st anniversary of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Of course, sharks also have over 400 million years of history to affirm that objectively, they’re pretty interesting creatures. While films like Jaws instilled a lot of cultural fear at the mere utterance of “shark,” today, scientific research and programming like Shark Week has replaced awful fears with awe-filled fascinations.
In healthcare, sharks haven’t exactly slipped under the radar. While, of course, the amount of damage sharks can potentially do to humans is well documented, so much so that the World Health Organization has dedicated specific International Classification of Disease – 10th Revision (ICD-10) codes specific to sharks.
On the other hand, though, countless stories, like those covered by BBC & even WebMD, aggregate innovative healthcare research centered on sharks. Studies around the cancer resistance, aging health, and wound healing strengths of sharks may directly lead to transformative healthcare outcomes for patients. Innovations modeled off of sharks, like the usage of sterile materials imitating shark skin’s resistance to bacterial contamination may also transform healthcare tools and procedures.
Sharks as Examples of the Quadruple Aim
Even when we look to healthcare operational models like the Quadruple Aim, sharks demonstrate valuable lessons to healthcare professionals. As apex predators, they themselves are a valuable resource to protect and manage within the oceans. Just as cost management is vital for ensuring resources are available and accessible in healthcare organizations, sharks themselves are a vital resource to the world’s oceans.
When it comes to patient experience, sharks are paragons of focus on the weakest and most vulnerable members of their ecosystems. Of course, the “attention” sharks give the weak and vulnerable is slightly different from the attention physicians and providers give patients. And the desired outcomes are a bit diametrically opposed, but the tenacity and patterned behavior is commendable.
The work sharks perform, though, is absolutely vital when it comes to managing the health of a given population. Overpopulation of seals, for example, can deplete fisheries and result in seal population collapse from starvation. Great white sharks help to keep seal populations balanced. Population management is an everyday deal for sharks.
Finally, when it comes to provider experience, sharks are masters of efficiency. Burnout, for example, is not a thing for sharks like it is for physicians, despite, comparatively, extremely active lifestyles. Referring again to the most recognizable shark, the great white, functionally these sharks cannot stop swimming or they’ll essentially drown. They need a constant flow of water over their gills to function. Nevertheless, great whites have been documented, even on video in Shark Week’s 2016 show, Jaws of the Deep. These masters of aquatic motion rest and refresh themselves by letting their bodies dive while napping in order to rest while still moving. If even sharks need rest, and essentially breaks from “shark business,” providers must admit physicians and healthcare professionals can benefit from balanced health breaks. Moreover, given such movement oriented demands placed on sharks like great whites, how nature serves up solutions can be inspiration for how providers find solutions as well.
Why Sharks Inspire Innovation in Healthcare:
In the end sharks, like healthcare professionals, are models for being the best at what they do. Evolution and natural selection have placed demands on sharks that they’ve met and exceeded over millions of years. Medical professionals, given the stakes of their trade, must also meet the highest of standards and refine themselves to be the best they can be. There’s a lot of common ground… or shared waters, if you’re willing to look.
It should be no surprise that when healthcare looks for answers or avenues for innovation, sharks often swim their way into the conversation. Sometimes, even medical innovations, like telemedicine, can find their way into the world of Shark Week. Game recognizes game, I suppose. The point though, is that sharks are amazing creatures that, like healthcare professionals, offer amazing benefits to the world. This is just one story of many potential positive, inspiring tales that can come out of the intersection between sharks and medicine Hopefully, this story may serve to inspire even more...