Healthcare’s Favorite Meaningless Numbers For Managing Its Business

I was a mathematician for six months.  That long enough for me to discover that real mathematicians were a lot smarter than me.  I had no more chance of being successful  than a Detroit auto worker who did not speak Spansih.

One of the things I remember is that it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that you can get the numbers to tell you whatever you wanted them to say. I learned how to prove that one plus one did not equal two, a fact that led me not to trust numbers.

That fact was especially true with statistics.

Last night we attended the ice hockey game at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  The scoreboard overhead displayed to sets of numbers; the score, and the number of shots on goal–the SOG.  The game ended in a 1–1 tie.  I told my son that hockey would be more fun if they doubled the size of the net and used two pucks simultaneously.  Americans don’t like ties.

The SOG showed that RIT had thirty-six shots on goal.  U-Conn had twenty-one SOGs.  As you can see, the SOG is a meaningless stat; lipstick on a pig.  It is meaningless because the only stat that matters is the score.  RIT was not awarded an extra goal simply because they had missed fifteen more shots than their opponent.  But the total lack of value of the stat does not stop them from tabulating it.

As I’ve written previously, the business of healthcare–how it’s managed–is mired in a 0.2 business model.  While all other industries have taken flight with business models that employ design-thinking, interactive, cognitive, and mobile-first technologies, healthcare–providers and payers–continue to debate the color of the carpeting to install in their call centers.  And they manage their business based on meaningless data they collect to measure access and engagement.

Healthcare could fill a book with its meaningless stats.  It’s even likely that many healthcare organizations paid someone a lot of money to create a dashboard so that their management could get up-to-the-minute updates on those stats.  “Joe-Bob, come over here and take a look at these numbers!  I’m showing that we have a .2% improvement on stat 7 from the same quarter last year.”

“What does that mean in terms of patient engagement?”  Asked Joe-Bob.

“I don’t’ know.  But I do know that better is always a good thing.  Isn’t it?”

Below are but a few of the most meaningless statistics that are collected and reviewed by executives whose jobs are to improve patient and member access and engagement.  Access and engagement, if they are measured at all, are measured using data collected online and from call centers.

  • Number of people who access their website each month
  • Average minutes spent viewing each web page–this statistic should tell the webmaster that they have hundreds of pages that nobody ever views
  • Total number of Facebook ‘likes’
  • Average wait-time per caller (Some callers have enough time on their hands to buy green bananas.)
  • Average number of callers in the queue
  • Average talk-time
  • Average handle-time

There would be no negative impact on their businesses if providers and payers stopped tracking those numbers tomorrow.

If you want to measure the success of access and engagement, track these statistics:

  • Number of people who accomplish a single task by visiting your website.  Note: tracking the number of people who went to your site to learn at what hour the gift shop opened is meaningless.  Equally meaningless is those who viewed ‘Find a Doctor.’
  • Number of people who scheduled an appointment online
  • Number of visitors who used online chat
  • Number of visitors inputting information in the ‘Contact us” box who received a real-time reply
  • Number of one-time visitors (leakage)
  • Number of callers who called because they could not accomplish what they needed on your website
  • Number of callers who wanted to speak with someone helpful  on weekends and after 6 p.m.
  • Number of callers who called your scheduling center for a reason other than scheduling an appointment (this number is usually around 80%
  • Number of abandoned calls (leakage)
  • Average number of calls per person to resolve a single issue
  • Number of frustrated callers who do not call back (leakage)

If you track theses numbers and understand their impact, you should be depressed.

If you want to know what to do to improve access and engagement, develop innovation teams to figure out how to manage each of those statistics.  The targets for some of those numbers should be one hundred percent, and the targets for the others should be zero.  I will leave it to you to determine which are which.

If that option is not attractive to you, you could sign up for a match.com account and write your profile; “Fond of unicorns and long walks on the beach.”

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