Patient Experience & The Sharpshooter’s Fallacy

Picture yourself standing in a field with someone else, standing a hundred feet from a barn.  The person next to you raises a rifle and takes dozens of shots at the side of the barn.

Afterward, he walks up to the side of the barn where he was shooting and draws a target on the barn’s wall centered on the area where the best cluster of his shots impacted the barn’s wall. Now, instead of a random scattering of shots on a barn wall, the shots are associated with a target.  They have a purpose.

Their differences are ignored and their similarities are stressed.

Looking at data in this way is called the Texas Sharpshooter’s Fallacy.  It is a clustering illusion, a tendency in human cognition to invent a correlation when in fact, the correlation does not exist.  This fallacy is how many experts interpret Nostradamus’ musings.

Today, the Sharpshooter Fallacy is often used, albeit inadvertently, to explain away business problems.  In healthcare, the fallacy is used to justify a health system’s efforts to improve consumerism and patient experience.

Patients and consumers need to interact with their provider.  To try to meet their needs they go online and they call their health system.  Their calls and their use of the Internet are perceived by their health system as rifle shots at a barn door.

The data tells the health system that patients are calling and going online.  By creating a call center and a website the health system thinks it has designed a solution to fix what it perceives as its problem.  The health system draws a target around the cluster of shots believing it has developed a solution to the problem.

They system’s fallacy is characterized by a lack of a specific hypothesis prior to gathering the data.  People call.  Therefore, we should build a big room, buy a bunch of phones, and hire a bunch of people, and we will have solved the problem.  They solved the problem without ever understanding the problem.

The solution to improving patient and customer experience is not answering phone calls.  The solution comes from understanding why people are calling.


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