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Published by:
ESMT European School of Management and Technology (2016)
January 13, 2016
Revision date:
9 pages
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The case provides an example of an individual who meets harsh criticism, personal attacks, and broad resistance despite clear evidence that what he is proposing is right and could save the lives of thousands of human beings. The case recounts the story of Dr Ignaz Philip Semmelweis, a pioneer in medical antiseptic procedures who is today known as 'the savior of mothers.' In 1847, Semmelweis discovered that the practice of hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics can effectively eliminate the outbreak of puerperal fever ('childbed fever'), a condition that killed up to 30 percent of mothers and babies in maternity clinics at the time of the case. The relatively short case – which is designed to be handed out during class - is divided into three parts. Part A describes the situation at Vienna General Hospital in 1846, when Semmelweis is assigned to head one of the two maternity clinics. Much of this part is dedicated to describing the natural experiment that Semmelweis encountered when learning that the two clinics had vastly different mortality rates. Part B lists the many hypotheses that Semmelweis had formulated and refuted, reports on his discovery that the contamination of women by doctors performing anatomical dissections of corpses is causing puerperal fever, and reveals his findings that it can be easily and effectively treated through hand disinfection. Part C provides an account of the resistance he faced from the medical establishment, despite the overwhelming evidence that Semmelweis had collected in support of his findings.


Change; Change management; Adaptive change; Adaptive leadership; Resistance to change; Decision making; Paradigmatic change; (Natural) experiment; Scientific method; Theory of science; History of science; Error management; R&D management
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