Meaningful Use–Are you following the crowd?

I remember the first time I entered their home I was taken aback by the clutter. Spent and wet leaves and small branches were strewn across the floors and furniture. Black Hefty trash bags stood against the walls filled with last year’s leaves. Dozens of bright orange buckets from Home Depot sat beneath the windows. The house always felt cold, very cold. After a while I learned to act normally around the clutter.

There came a time however when I simply had to ask, “Why all the buckets? What’s the deal with the leaves?”

“We try hard to keep the place neat,” she replied.

“Where does it all come from?” I asked.

“The windows.”

I looked at her somewhat askance. “I’m not sure I follow,” I replied as I began to feel uneasy.

“It’s not like we like living this way; the water, the cold, the mess. It costs a fortune to heat this place.

And, the constant bother of emptying the buckets, and the sweeping of the leaves.”

“Why don’t you shut your windows? It seems like that would solve a lot of your problems.”

She looked like I had just tossed her cat in a blender.

When you see something abnormal often enough it becomes normal. Sort of like in the movie The Stepford Wives. Sort of like all the scurrying around Meaningful Use.  The normal has been subsumed by the abnormal, and in doing so has created an entire entity which is slowing devouring the resources of the organization.

Are you kidding me? I wish. It’s much easier to see this as a consultant than it is if you are drinking the Kool Aid on a daily basis. When I talk with hospital executives they are marching headstrong into the Meaningful Use abyss.

It makes me feel like I must be the only one in the room who doesn’t get it—again with The Stepford Wives.

If I ask about it they always have an answer. It all boils down to something like, “We simply can’t turn down the money.”  They say that with a straight face as though they are waiting to see if I will drink the Kool Aid.  It’s gotten to the point where no matter how goofy things get, as long as they are consistently goofy, they are not goofy at all.

This is the mindset that enables leaders to be fooled by their own activity. Busy replaces thinking.

Does it come in blue?

The store for audiophile wannabe’s. Denver, Colorado. The first store I hit after blowing an entire paycheck at REI when I moved to Colorado.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of clutter, the lack of inventory. There were no amplifiers, because amplifiers were down market. There were a dozen or so each of the pre-amps, tuners, turntables, reel to reel tape decks, and these things called CD players. They also had dozens of speakers. At the back of the store was an enclosed 10 x 10 foot sound proof room with a leather chair positioned dead center.

When the ponytailed salesperson asked about my budget, like a rube I told him I didn’t have one. He beamed and took that to mean it was unlimited. It really meant I hadn’t thought of one. He asked me what I liked to listen to.

“Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon.”

Within a few seconds I was seated in Captain Kirk’s chair, and Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage filled the room in pure digital quadraphonic sound. I was in love.

I lived a block and a half away. Since the equipment wouldn’t fit in my Triumph, I made several trips carrying home my new toys—gold plated monster cable, solid maple speakers that rested on nails so as to minimize distortion, a pre-amp, tuner, receiver, turntable, and stylus.

It wasn’t that I deliberately bought stuff I didn’t need. I walked in uneducated. I had never bought what I was looking at. I didn’t know how much to spend, nor what it would do for me. Looking back at that purchase decision, I bought specs I didn’t need. I didn’t realize it was possible to build audio technology that would meet performance specs beyond what I person could hear, heck beyond what anything could hear. Not understanding that possibility, I bought specs I couldn’t hear. I spent hundreds of dollars on features from which I would never receive value. You too?

It happens all the time. Stereos. Cars. Computers. Applications. Technology. Having bought it doesn’t mean it was needed, or that it was the right thing to do, or that it has an ROI, or that it meets the mission.

The cool thing is that even though I could not hear half the features of my new stereo, it looked really, really impressive.

Healthcare IT: A premonition

As I walked through the offices of one of my clients last week I kept passing errant lines of code that had fallen to the floor throughout the hospital.  Each time I passed one I retrieved it and dropped it in a folder.  Eating lunch in the cafeteria, I laid the lines of code in front of me on the café table—HIE, EHR, Meaningful Use, HIPAA, and one bit of code on Accountable Care Organizations—not sure how that one got in there; probably written by a healthcare futurist with a pet unicorn.

I was reminded of the time a purchased an unassembled gas grill—why pay an extra hundred dollars to have someone connect Part A to Part B?  As I learned, the reason to pay the hundred dollars is so that at the end of the process you are not left with parts K and Q and no idea where they go.  The grill started just fine.  Apparently, parts K and Q had a lot do with turning off the grill—the lid melted seven years ago, and the grill has served as our home’s eternal flame ever since.

I dare say there are many organizations whose systems are missing important lines of code.  Maybe that is why more than half of the large providers will soon discover their EHR functions more like a multi-million dollar scanner than an EHR.

A major problem for healthcare information technology (HIT) is the disruption it has brought upon itself.  If we are honest about HIT, it was not working all that well before we started disrupting it.  EHR was not a natural fit on the prior architecture.  To make EHR fit required that bits of the old be cut away and new applications had to be hammered and welded into place.  Many chasing Meaningful Use have to take short cuts to meet it.  Getting something to fit is not the same as getting something to function.

Once the EHR is in place, out come the hammers to get EHR to meet Meaningful Use.  The code and interfaces are chiseled away, and functionality is sacrificed.  Now leaders are trying to figure out what must be sacrificed to get ACOs hammered into place.

The old architecture was never architected to support an EHR or an ACO.  That means that many, many hospitals are a few months or one or two years away from having to rethink their EHR strategy.  The short cuts and dropped lines of code will have degraded the EHR’s performance to such an extent that it will have to be replaced.

The next trend in HIT will not be ACOs.  Instead it will be large teams of outside consultants swarming like locusts to provide disaster recovery on hundred million dollar EHRs.

EHR and HIT positions available

Thanks to those of you who have been faithful readers for so long.

If you know of any skilled EHR or HIT professionals looking for interesting opportunities with a great firm, please forward them this link.  Openings include;

  • EPIC
  • McKesson
  • NextGen
  • Meditech
  • Management Consulting
  • Allscripts
  • Cerner
  • Eclipsys
  • SeeBeyond
  • Cloverleaf

Thanks for your help.

EHR: Should you hire a swim coach?

Swimming with guppies.

Got the new bike, got the new bike shoes, got the uni (uniform-not unitard).  I’ve written about my desire to compete in a triathlon.  Actually, I miswrote.  My desire is not to compete, it’s more accurately a desire not to make a fool of myself during the swim, more specifically not to drown.

The swimming is one of those events where having the coolest outfit doesn’t help, as there are no coolest swimming outfits (men do not let men wear Speedos).  There aren’t enough North Face labels for me to wear to make me look like I know what I’m doing in a pool.

What to do?  Here’s my thinking.  I made a new friend, and as a bonus, she happens to be pretty sharp on the pharma side of healthcare.  She swims—fast.  She swims—a lot.  Did I mention she swims?  Longtime readers know I like to color outside the lines.  Maybe I could hire her to take my place during that part of the race.  Then we get back to the issue of the uni.  One way or another that becomes an issue for one of us.

She offered to teach me.  Lesson one was today.  Lesson two will begin right after the EMTs finish their CPR on me.  Rule one, no matter how cool you think you are, you can’t breathe under water.  That took a few laps to master.  More breathing, stroke, legs.  Lots to learn.

“Let’s get a pool boy to help you not drag your legs,” she suggested.

I have difficulty passing up the opportunity to comment.  She could see I had the broccoli in the headlights look in my eyes.  “You hold it between your legs and it helps you float.”

I scanned the pool.  There we the two of us…and the lifeguard.  “It looks like he’s busy,” I offered somewhat sheepishly.  “Besides, if that’s what it takes, I think we’re both better off if I drag my legs.” (A little un-PC pool humor, but why not, I was already wet and being out swum.

So, what does this have to do with why we’re here?  Here’s the take away.  Sometimes, no matter how smart, no matter how big your ego, you need help.  Sometimes it makes a huge difference to have someone on your side who’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Not with me yet?  A guy (man or woman guy—send me an email and let me know when we can let go of this PC thing and just write) is walking down the road, not watching where he’s going, and he/we/she/it falls into a deep hole.

An engineer walks by.  “Help me,” shouts Hole Person.

The engineer thinks for a moment, writes some ideas on a piece of paper and tosses them into the hole.

Several hours later, a finance guy walks by.  “Help me out (literally)” yells Hole Person.  The CFO tosses down a cheque (I use the Canadian spelling to distinguish it from someone from the Eastern Bloc as it would make no sense to toss another person into the hole.)

Days later, Hole Boy (not the same as Pool Boy in case anyone is still reading) is at the end of his rope.  The work plan failed. The Check bounced.

A consultant passed, saw the man, and hopped into the hole.

“Why did you do that?  Now we’re both stuck.”

The consultant smiled in a Grinch-like fashion—please see prior blog for the segue.  “I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

Kind’ a like a swim coach.

EHR projects have more zeros than you can count.  What if you could hire someone who knew the way out?

I may know someone who can help.


HIT/EHR: A little adult supervision

Among other things, EHR requires adult supervision–kind of like parenting.

My morning was moving along swimmingly.  The kids were almost out the door and I thought I’d get a batch of bread underway before heading out for my run.  I was at the step where you gradually add three cups of flour—I was in a hurry and dumped it all in at once.  This is when the eight-year-old hopped on the counter and turned on the mixer.  He didn’t just turn it on, he turned it ON—power level 10.

If you’ve ever been in a blizzard, you are probably familiar with the term whiteout.   On either side of the mixer sat two of my children, the dog was on the floor.  In an instant the three of them looked like they had been flocked—like the white stuff sprayed on Christmas trees—those of you more politically astute would call them evergreens—to make them look snow-covered.  (I just em-dashed an em-dash, wonder how the AP Style Book likes that.)  So, the point I was going for is that sometimes, adult supervision is required.

What exactly is Health IT, or HIT?  It may be easier asking what HIT isn’t.  One way to look at it is to consider the iPhone.  For the most part the iPhone is a phone, an email client, a camera, a web browser, and an MP3 player.  The other 85,000 things it can be are things that happen to interact with or reside on the device.

In order for us to implement correctly (it sounds better when you spilt the infinitive) HIT and EHR, a little focus on blocking and tackling are in order.  Some write that EHR may be used to help with everything from preventing hip fractures to diagnosing the flu—you know what, so can doctor’s.  There are probably things EHR can be made to do, but that’s not what they were designed to do, not why you want one, and not why Washington wants you to want one.  No Meaningful Use bonus point will be awarded to providers who get ancillary benefits from their EHR especially if they don’t get it to do what it is supposed to do.

EHR, if done correctly, will be the most difficult, expensive, and far reaching project undertaken by a hospital.  It should prove to be at least as complicated as building a new hospital wing.  If it doesn’t, you’ve done something wrong.

EHR is not one of those efforts where one can apply tidbits of knowledge gleaned from bubblegum wrapper MBA advice like “Mongolian Horde Management” and “Everything I needed to know I learned playing dodge ball”.

There’s an expression in football that says when you pass the ball there are three possible outcomes and only one of them is good—a completion.  EHR sort of works the same, except the range of bad outcomes is much larger.

EHR… “You are not twenty anymore”

There is a first time for everything.  Yesterday was the first time it occurred to me that there is a difference between being twenty and not being twenty.  A few days ago one of the women at the gym was bemoaning the fact that being forty wasn’t at all like being thirty–puhleeaasse.

My wife would have me point out her admonition of “You are not twenty anymore.”  Women do not understand that to men this phrase goes into our little brains and comes out reshuffled as the phrase “Just you wait and see.”

There are those who would have you believe that there is no single muscle that is connected to every other muscle, a muscle which if pulled will make every other muscle hurt.  I beg to differ.  I think I found it—I call it a my groinal—it’s connected to my adverse and inverse bent-egotudinals, the small transflexors located behind the mind’s eye.  I found the muscle while running back a kickoff during a Thanksgiving morning game of flag football.

Call it an homage to the Kennedys.  Sort of made me fee like one of them—I think it was Ethyl.  Old guys versus new guys—I know it’s a poor word choice but you know what I mean which after all is why we’re both here.  Did I mention that everything aches, so much so that I tried dipping myself in Tylenol?

There are two types of people who play football, those who like to hit people and those who don’t like being hit.  I am clearly a member of the latter camp.  I used to be able to avoid being hit by being faster than the other guy.  This day I avoided getting hit by running away from the other guy.

The weird part is that my mind still pictures my body doing things just like the college kids on the field, and it feels the same, it just isn’t.  Two kids passed me–they were probably on steroids, and my only reaction was the parent in me wanting to ground the two of them.  Half the guys are moving at half the speed of the other guys.  At the end of each play, we find our side doubled over, our hands on our knees, our eyes scanning the sidelines for oxygen and wondering why the ground appears to be swaying.

As the game progresses, instead of running a deep curl pattern, I find myself saying things like, “I’ll take two steps across the line of scrimmage, hit me if I’m open.”  Thirty minutes later I’m trying to cut a deal with their safety, telling him, “I’m not in this play, I didn’t even go to the huddle.”  After that I’m telling the quarterback, “If you throw it to me, I’m not going to catch it, no matter what.”

All the parts are the same ones I’ve always had, but they aren’t functioning the way they should.  It’s a lot like assembling a gas grill and having a few pieces remaining—I speak from experience.  Unfortunately, implementing complex healthcare information technology systems can often result in things not functioning the way they should, even if you have all the pieces.  It helps to have a plan, have a better one than you thought you needed, have one written by people who plan nasty HIT systems, then have someone manage the plan, someone who can walk into the room and say, “This is what we are going to do on Tuesday, because this is what you should do on Tuesday on big hairy projects.”.

Then, if you pull your groinal muscle implementing EHR, try dipping yourself in Tylenol.


EHR–WWOD (What would Oprah do?)

So, I’m watching the Alabama Auburn game and it suddenly strikes me, there are probably a lot of people trying to understand what it is a consultant does that we can’t do for ourselves.

For those who have a life, those who missed the game, Auburn entered the game undefeated and had a good chance to play for the national title.  Alabama opens the game with several well-scripted opening plays and grabbed an early lead.

Their first ‘n’ offensive plays were brilliant.  They were planned perfectly.

It became apparent they had not planned the however many of the ‘n + 1’ plays.  Their plan failed to go beyond what they’d already accomplished.

How does that apply to what you do, what I do, and why I think I can help you?  It is best described by comparing your brain to a consultant’s brain.  Your work brain functions exactly as it should.  It’s comprised of little boxes of integrated work activities, one for admissions and registration, one for diagnosis, another for care.  There’s probably another box for whatever it is the newsletter stated IT was doing three months ago and how that impacts what you do.  That’s your job.

Your boxes interface in some form or fashion with the boxes of the person next to you in the hospital’s basement cafeteria who is paying for her chicken, broccoli, and rice dish that reminds you of what you ate at crazy Uncle Bob’s wedding reception.  That interface is the glue that makes the hospital work.  It’s also the synapse, the connective tissue—I know it’s a weak metaphor, but it’s a holiday weekend—give me some slack—that tries to keep healthcare functioning in an 0.2 business model.

There are names for the connective tissue, you know it and I know it.  It’s called politics.  It’s derived from antiquated notions like, “this is how we’ve always done it”, “that’s radiology’s problem”, and “nobody asked me”,

At some point over the next week or two the inevitable happens; the need arises for you to add some tidbit of information.  Do you add it to an existing box, put it in an empty box, or ignore it?  This is where you must separate the wheat from the albumen—just checking to see how closely you’re following.

Your personal warehouse of boxes looks like the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark—acre after acre of dusty, full boxes, no Dewy-decimal filing system, and no empty box.  There are two rules at the hospital; one, bits of information must go somewhere, and two, nobody can change rule one.

The difference, and it’s a big one, is that consultants have an empty box.  It’s our Al Gore lockbox.  We were born that way.  It’s like having a cleft chin.  We also have no connective tissue to your organization.  No groupthink.  No Stepford Wives. No Invasion of the Body Snatchers to turn us into mindless pods.  Consultants may be the only people who don’t care.  Let me rephrase that.  We don’t care about the politics.  We don’t care that the reason the hospital has four IT departments is because the hospital’s leadership was afraid to tell the siloed docs that they couldn’t buy or build whatever they wanted.

Sometimes it comes down to your WWOD (what would Oprah do) moment.  Not ‘what do they want me to do’, not ‘what would they do’, not ‘what is the least disruptive’, not ‘what goes best with what the other hospital did’.

At some point it comes down to, what is the right thing to do; what should we do.

Big, hairy healthcare IT projects come out of the shoot looking like Alabama did against Auburn.  The first however many moves are scripted perfectly.  Heck, you can download them off Google.  Worse yet, you can get your EHR vendor to print them for you.

The wheat from the albumen moment comes when you have to come up with an answer to the questions, “What do we do next,” and “Why doesn’t it work like they said it would?”

That’s why consultants have an open box.  You know what we are doing when our brain takes us to the open box?  Thinking.  No company politics to sidetrack us.  Everybody knows the expected answers, but often the expected answer is not the best answer.  Almost everybody knows what comes after A, B, C, and D.

Sometimes…E is not the right answer or the best answer.

The EHR wore Prada: Stilleto Change Management

I just returned from the Prada show in Milan. Not really—that was the opening line from a piece on NPR. Apparently this year’s runaway hit on the runways has to do with high heels, with the emphasis on the notion of high.

The following comes from the UK Telegraph: The girls looked like rabbits trapped in the headlights; their faces taut and unsmiling, their eyes wide with fear and apprehension. Were they about to undertake a parachute jump? Abseil down a 1,000ft mountain? None of the above. All they were doing was trying to negotiate the catwalk at Prada during this week’s Milan fashion shows in shoes that were virtually impossible to walk in. At least two models tripped and fell on to the concrete floor; others wobbled and stumbled, teetering and tottering, clearly in agony, and all the while their minds were fixated on just one thing: reaching the sanctuary and safety of the backstage area without suffering a similar fate.

According to the NPR reporter, the heels are so high that regular people—women people that is—can’t seem to walk in them without falling. This problem has led to the creation of an entirely new micro-industry. In L.A. and New York, there are classes to teach ladies how to walk in very high heels without hurting themselves. These classes are being offered through dance schools that couldn’t fill their dance classes—they are now booked solid.

Tell me this isn’t the same as trying to walk and chew gum at the same time. Multitasking. Now before I make fun of some thirty year-old that has to relearn how to walk, let us turn our attention back to those dancing—cum—walking schools. From a consultant’s perspective what makes this story interesting is that those businesses saw a need and re-engineered a part of their operation to meet that need, sort of like we’ve been discussing regarding the impact EHR and reform can have on your organization.  With the implementation of EHR, many things will change.  If they don’t require change, you probably wasted your money on the EHR.  What’s important is having a plan to define the change and manage it.  Rework work flows, remove duplicated processes and departments.

Now I’m going to go saw the heels off my wife’s shoes before she hurts herself.


Your brand ain’t what it was

Many brands have been redefined by a hospital’s patients through their patients’ use of social media.  Your brand is now what their patients—their social mediaphiles—say it is.  How’s that for a wakeup call?

Hospitals spend millions of dollars each year marketing to build their internal and external image; to what end?  At best, a hospital’s only barometer for how well they are getting their message across is a metric for name recognition.  Do more people know your name than they did a year ago?

I bet they do.  I would also bet most hospitals would have the same recognition factor if they did not spend a dollar on marketing.  Many organizations have no return on their marketing investment.  Installing a billboard on a highway a mile away from the hospital depicting a picture of smiling urologists is not bringing new patients or helping you retain current patients.

It may be time to figure out what the market and your employees are saying about your organization.  Chances are good that many of their messages are far different from your hospital’s vision statement and mission.  Chances are also good that their bandwidth and access to your customer base is significantly higher than yours.