Healthcare: If Everything Else Fails, Eat A Slim-Jim

I don’t play well in public.

Contrary to what you may believe, I do not have special powers of perception. Like you, I’m just a customer and a patient. However, I have a very short fuse when it comes to confronting stupidity.

Most people walk into a store, do what they need to do, and leave. I walk into a store and the consultant in me wants to start fixing things. I want to speak to the manager and ask him or her why they do some of the things they do.

Why have fifteen cash registers at Wegmans and only have three cashiers? Why does TSA have different security procedures at every airport?

I bought gas today. I parked my car between two pumping stations that were set ten feet apart. A built-in receptacle for depositing lit cigarettes stood a few feet from me. A structural metal pole stood midway between the two pumps. Attached to the pole was a metal box. Inside the box was a fire extinguisher. The box required a key in order to get to the fire extinguisher. (Do you see where this is headed?)

I’ve never worked at a gas station, nor have I been a fireman. Nonetheless, the stupidity wheels in my head started screaming at me. In an effort to temper myself, I looked around the complex and thought, if a fire was to break out, where would it happen? After a millisecond of thinking, I was able to eliminate all of the other places except for where I was standing. The minimart seemed pretty fireproof. The place where people pumped air into their tires looked like there was nothing to cause a conflagration.

And then it hit me. I was standing at ground zero. A very large tank below the ground held thousands of gallons of gasoline. That tank was connected to hoses whose only purpose is to move gasoline from the tank and out of those hoses as quickly as possible. Gasoline burns. Then bad things happen.

So, what would happen if there were a fire at one of the two gas pumps? There would be flames. Big flames. And it would be the job of Mr. Minimart, let’s call him Skippy, to put out the fire. Skippy, seated behind the minimart’s counter, would put down his copy of his Cliff Notes magazine, How to be an International Diplomat, and he would say to himself, I must do something. I should get the fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

And if Skippy is not a mouth breather—one of the fish NPR claims walked from the ocean, Skippy would remember that he locked fire extinguisher in the box—say it with me—that is located smack dab in the middle of the inferno. Skippy is out of options. From the minimart, Skippy calls the fire department and starts eating a Slim-Jim.

Stupid ideas have consequences. Every business is chocked full of stupid ideas that yield dumb processes that were made by people who never considered the consequences of their ideas.

Healthcare is not immune to dumb ideas.

“People call us. So, let’s build a big room and buy a bunch of phones so we can talk to them. If too many people have to be placed on hold, tell our people to talk less, and then they can talk to more people. And let’s buy some philodendrons and place them in the big room.”

“Should we give our people free coffee?” Asked the assistant vice president.

“I just gave them plants,” she replied. “Come to think of it, get them plastic plants. That way we can market ourselves as ‘going green’, by not having to water them.”

Dumb ideas.

Many health systems and payers have executives whose singular responsibility is to drive innovation. The results of the recent election should have a lot of healthcare executives wishing that they had written their strategic plan on an Etch-A-Sketch. Make healthcare great again is going to change the dogma of every aspect of healthcare. It is certainly going to shake up the Veterans Administration.

To be effective, the chief innovation officer should set aside a day and talk to patients and caregivers and family members of patients and referring physicians and prospective patients and ask them two questions:

  • What can we do to help people manage their health
  • What can we do to help people do business with us

And then he or she should go back to his or her office—I used both pronouns to try to be politically correct—and that person should rethink the definition of innovation. It is not about providing valet parking. It does not include serving Starbucks in the hospital’s fifty million dollar lobby. And innovation does not include free Internet.

What it requires is upping your game. It requires letting people do what they want, every time they want to do it, whenever they want to do it and using whatever device they want to use. And the vast majority of them want to do it without having to call you.

If that makes you uncomfortable, grab a Slim-Jim, and watch what your competitors are doing.

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