Patient Relationship Management–why patients and hospitals collide

When universes collide, or is universi the plural? Not that is matters. I was watching NOVA.  The show focused on the lead singer of the Indie group The Eels.  The show walked through the singer’s attempt to understand was his father had done for a living.  His father was a physicist, in fact he was the person who came up with the notion of colliding universes. Colliding universes has something to do with quantum mechanics and cosmology—did you also wonder what makeup had to do with particle physics? In its rawest meaning, parallel universes have something to do with the notion of identical worlds living side-by-side, with no notion of each other, with differing outcomes from similar events. Got it?  Me either.

I’ll try to illustrate if for nothing else than my own attempt to understand. Let’s say I’m concurrently teaching my two sons to play two different card games, Poker and War. Poker, albeit a game of chance, is heavily rules-based—when to bet, when to fold, when to raise. On the other hand, War is purely a game of chance. The poker player likes rules and order. The one playing war—he’s seven—likes to win, and will do what is required to bring about that outcome. Each one plays independent of the other, using the tools at their disposal to direct the outcome of the game in their favor. They are oblivious to the goals and tactics employed by the person sitting beside them. Parallel universes.

What if we allowed these two universes to collide, to come into conflict with one another? For example, let’s say I have them play each other and I re-deal the cards, giving one the cards he needs for a poker hand, and the other the cards to play war. I then instruct them to play one another. The poker player becomes focused on the rules, and the one playing war has a laser focus on one thing—winning. The poker player quickly caves, knowing that he is engaged in a futile endeavor. This does not bother the other one whose only focus was to win.

Imagine if you will—sort of Rod Serlingish—two other games going on simultaneously, one team whose sole focus is winning, the other whose focus is on the rules. For the rules-based team there is no winning. The best they can ever hope to do is to measure up to the rules by which they are judged. Millions have been spent on technology to help ensure that adherence. Adherence to the rules will be monitored, recorded, reported, and measured. The rules-based team’s ability to continue to play the game will be based solely on how well they follow the rules. Now imagine that the universes in which these two teams are playing collide and these two teams play their separate games but against each other. One team having never been told how to win, never been instructed to win, never even given permission to win. The other team’s only purpose is to win.

This is a nonsense game. One we play every day.  One team is the hospital’s patients the other team is the employees who are tasked with patient customer care, patient relationship management (PRM).  The patients are focused on winning, those tasked with customer care or PRM are not permitted or equipped to win.

It’s possible for these two groups to change the outcome, to take away the nonsense.  To make that happen, the rules must change.  PRM can be very effective provided that it is designed to help the patients “win”, designed to facilitate favorable outcomes for patients.  The trick to changing the outcome is that the hospital must understand that a win for the patients in most cases is also a win for the hospital.


One thought on “Patient Relationship Management–why patients and hospitals collide

  1. Paul,

    The “two” participants may not include all of the potential participants. In some circumstances, physicians are contractors of some kind to a hospital. A contract relationship according to many human resources and organizational does not create the unified entity that is necessary or critical in supporting an initiative such as patient relationship management

    Source: Alison Davis-Blake, Joseph P. Broschak and Elizabeth George (2003) “Happy Together? How Using Nonstandard Workers Affects Exit, Voice, and Loyalty among Standard Employees”. The Academy of Management Journal Vol. 46, No. 4 (Aug., 2003), pp. 475-485 (article consists of 11 pages) Published by: Academy of Management Stable URL:


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