navy and light blue graphic with white text overlay holistic problem solving in healthcare

Holistic Problem Solving in Healthcare

Staff Writer
Mar 24, 2022

In a medical setting, a holistic approach to problem solving refers to addressing the whole person, including their physical, mental, and emotional health, while taking social factors into consideration. This could be specific to diagnosis, in which case a holistic approach might consider all possible symptoms, or holistic treatment which may be very creative and empowers the patient to take charge of their own care.

What Does Holistic Mean?

In simple terms, “holistic” refers to the understanding of the relationship between all of the parts of a whole. In problem solving, a holistic approach starts by first identifying an obstacle, then taking a step back to understand the situation as a whole. When it comes to healthcare, solving problems holistically can make a huge impact on the quality of patient outcomes.

1. Practice Functional Fluidity

There’s more than one way to look at, or solve, a problem. Just because something worked before doesn’t guarantee it to work again. When you’re stuck on a single way of looking at a problem or solution, and unwilling to think about it differently, consider that there might be a solution you, or others, haven’t thought of yet. There are a number of different ways that people go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, but working as a team enables the group to employ a range of approaches to figure out and fix a problem. Avoid rigidity and try to stay fluid when it comes to finding a creative solution to a problem.

2. Focus on Accurate and Relevant Information

Interpersonal blow-outs are often rife with irrelevant information. You’ve probably experienced a conflict with a sibling, significant other, or co-worker in which the actual fight was actually about something very different. Holistic problem solving requires cool-headedness and accuracy. So start by assessing what parts of the conflict are related to the issue at hand, and which are about something else entirely. When a problem is very complex, solutions come easier when you push misleading or irrelevant information to the background and focus on the facts.

3. Make NO Assumptions

When dealing with a complication, people often make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Try to examine everything you presume is true about the situation – and then consider that it may not be. The other person might not have the same information as you and they might have interpreted something differently. Start by assessing the facts and looking at the problem broadly to avoid making assumptions.

4. Refrain From Placing Blame

The fastest way to shut down the line of communication is to place blame on someone else. If someone hears they’re wrong, it’s natural to be defensive — which can actually escalate a conflict. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements to explain your position. It’s about staying neutral and making the others involved in the conflict understand you at the most basic human level. After all, the only person you can control is you.

5. Listen Actively

Communication skills are essential to effective holistic problem solving, and one such primary skill is active listening. Avoid taking a “you” vs “I” approach when solving problems collectively. When someone vocalizes what they’re feeling, make eye contact and repeat back to them what you heard. This is especially helpful in speaking with patients. It reinforces the feeling that they’re being listened to and creates empathy and appreciation. It’s also an opportunity for the patient to refine or correct their statement to ease misunderstandings.

6. Stick to Holistic Nursing Principles

In the medical world, solving for patient issues from a holistic approach is quite specific. The American Holistic Nurses Association has identified six principles to leverage when approaching problems in patient care.

  1. A body of knowledge
  2. Evidence-based research
  3. Sophisticated skills
  4. Defined standards of practice
  5. A diversity of modalities from a broad range of practices
  6. A philosophy of living and being


Solving problems holistically means examining the whole behavior. The key to a patient’s problem might not be obvious; the issue might be found in thoughtful consideration of the whole person, their environment, and lifestyle.