ICD-10: the true cost of having no experience

The thing I like least about flying has to do with my control issues; someone else controls the plane and there is nothing I can do about it.  The pilot’s voice seemed to say “Put yourself in my hands.”  Like nails, I thought, like carpentry nails.  As a result I find myself creating caricatures of the people seated around me—I can choose do that, or I can choose to rush the cockpit and wind up being a two-minute feature on CNN with the other passengers asking how I got the gun on board.

I get as excited about someone sitting next to me as a dog does about a new flee crawling around on his hind quarters.  Picture the woman who sat next to me.  I was tempted to ask her how she could dress like that but, I worried she would reply “From years of practice.”  She looked like a disaster victim might be expected to look—a tattered, grey wool blanket draped over her shoulders.  The only thing missing from the scene was a reporter standing over her asking her how she felt about the plane crash.  Her face was strong and equine, with a straight nose that veered slightly leeward.  As she gnawed angrily at her gum with her front teeth, her fingers gripped the armrests so tightly I could foresee the need to call a flight surgeon upon landing to amputate her arms at her wrists.

Anyway, that was my flight.  Yours?  Here’s the segue.

Picture the makeup of the attendees of your last meeting (circle the topic that best describes its purpose; EHR, Meaningful Use, ICD-10).  As I look around the conference table, sitting directly across from the bagels is Jackie.  Jackie has been a member of the IT team since the invention of punch cards.  Bill still prefers to use the “portable” Compaq suitcase PC he was issued during the time the US was playing Reggae hits over loudspeakers trying to coax Manuel Noriega out of Panama.  And Mindy has stormy eyes—sorry about that—Mindy has a coffee mug collection acquired at the going away parties for the prior seven CIOs.

Our Lady of Perpetual Billing’s hospital information technology A-team is waiting to see exactly what type of fertilizer is about to be loosed upon the windmill of their little shop of horrors.  They run a taught ship; nothing slips by them, and nobody can match their job performance.  The last unpaid claim was six years ago, and their efforts have made patient satisfaction so high that the hospital cafeteria’s reservations are booked solid through year end.

It is usually good to have experienced people.  People with twenty years of experience.  Is it twenty years of experience or twenty in one year’s worth of subject matter?  My son has three years of Pokémon experience which makes him an expert on all things Pokémon.   This turns out to be a pretty valuable skill as long as the conversation stays on point.  Unfortunately, being an expert on Pokémon does not translate as readily as he would like me to believe to other areas requiring his attention, areas like cleaning his room.

So, let’s get back to the issue of Jackie, Bill, and Mindy, and our collection of three IT projects.  We can all agree people with their level of experience are very good at what you need them to do, in fact, they are probably irreplaceable.  They know what to do from the moment they enter the building until the moment they leave.  They are in their comfort zone, even though the hospital may not be in its.

Somebody has to work on EHR, Meaningful Use, and ICD-10.  Do you pick people with twenty years of one-year experience?  You may not have a choice.  Twenty years of one-year experience may be the worst kind of experience to add to your team.  It is a given that nobody in your organization is pushing around a wheel barrow full of Meaningful Use or ICD-10 experience.

I spoke with the CIO of a large hospital and listened as he described the hospital’s ICD-10 initiative.  I did not have the heart to tell him that the use of the word “initiative” was overly ambitious.  The initiative was little more than a meeting of a half-dozen “experienced” people; people from operations, finance, and IT.  People who were very good at their jobs—naturally, they had been doing them for…say it with me…twenty years.  One of the CIO commemorative coffee mugs sat on the conference table.

These meetings generally begin and end with unblemished legal pads sitting in front of each participant.  Why?  Let us explore that question for a minute.  The group’s charter is to figure out what the hospital needs to do to be HIPAA 5010 ready by the end of 2011, has to be ICD-10 compliant by the end of 2012, and has to determine what it will cost and what resources will be needed.

Suppose that is your charter, or the charter of someone in your hospital.  How will those with twenty years of one-year experience help you?  What is the first thing you need to do?  What is the second?  What should the group be doing two weeks from Tuesday?

Maybe the best thing to write is “We do not know how to do this!  We need help.”

 

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