Dinner’s warm, it’s in the dog–Patient Experience Management

dog

Let’s see what we can somehow tie this to patients; I couldn’t resist using the title. The phrase came from my friend’s wife. She’d said it to him after he and I came home late from work one night, he having forgotten his promise to call her if we were to be late. Apparently, she hadn’t forgotten his promise. We walked into the kitchen. “Dinner’s warm—it’s in the dog.” She walked out of the kitchen. I think that’s one of the best lines I’ve ever heard.

He was one of my mentors. We spent a lot of time consulting on out-of-town engagements. I remember one time I took out my phone to call my wife when he grabbed me by the wrists and explained I shouldn’t do that. We had just finished working a 10 or 12 hour day of consulting and had stopped by a bar to grab a steak and beer. I remember there was loud music playing. When I inquired as to why I shouldn’t call he explained.

“When your wife is chasing three children around the house and trying to prepare dinner, she doesn’t want to hear music and laughter and clinking beer glasses. She needs to know that you are having as bad a night as she is. So call her from outside, and make it sound like tonight’s dinner would be something from a vending machine.”

“But it’s raining,” I whimpered. Indeed it was, but seeing the wisdom in his words I headed out and made my call.

So, back to the dinner and the dog, and the steak and the phone call. In reality, they are both the same thing. It all comes down to Expectations. In healthcare it comes down to patient expectations.

Patient Experience Management (PEM) is comprised of two things; patient equity management and patient expectation management. Ask your CFO and your Chief Marketing Officer.  Patients are assets in the same way that the laptops in the nurse’s station and the worn vinyl couch in the waiting room are assets.  They are part of the organization’s valuation.  Unlike durable goods, patients for the most part do not depreciate.  Most organizations know more about how to keep the couch from walking away than they do about preventing the patient from disappearing and never returning.

When was the last time someone in your hospital asked prospective patients about their expectations prior to admitting the patient?  Answer; never.  Chances are that someone in your organization has at some point surveyed or polled discharged patients about their satisfaction.  Those surveys were probably compiled and aggregated, and somehow a rating of high, average, or below average was derived.  What information did that rating yield?  Nothing.

Let’s say you surveyed one thousand patients and that the average patient satisfaction score was ‘below average’.  As compared to what?  Without knowing the patients’ expectations ahead of time it is not possible to calculate how far off below average is from the expectation of average, nor is it possible to know what needs to be done to improve patient satisfaction enough to increase satisfaction.

Viewing patient satisfaction in aggregate tells you very little.  Your expectations, and how your experience compared to those expectations will differ from mine.  The only way to understand how to improve the patient experience across the board is to ask.  Don’t just ask about the treatment they received because in most hospitals the treatment will be stellar.  This is where most hospitals are missing the boat when it comes to improving the patient’s experience.

Let’s say a patient is in the hospital for three days to have a certain procedure done.  The procedure was performed perfectly.  That does not mean the patient will rate their experience as high.  Many other things happen over those seventy-two hours that result in a bad overall experience; the check-in, the food, the noise in the hall, poor service, the bill.

Still not with me?  Suppose you go to Chicago for a three-day convention and you give a one hour speech on day two.  Your speech goes well but your hotel room is noisy, too hot, the cable is broken, they charge you twenty dollars a night for wireless service, and somebody else’s dinner was billed to your room.  If you are like me, when someone asks you about your trip you tell them about the problems with your room, not that your speech went well.  In fact, you probably went to the hotel manager and demanded that the hotel comp your bill.

Expectations not met.  Why?  Basic business processes were a disaster.

Back to the warm dinner in the dog and my phone call. A set of expectations existed in both scenarios. One could argue as to whether the expectations were realistic—and one did argue just that—only to learn that neither of our wives considered the realism of their expectations to be a critical success factor. In that respect, the two women about whom I write are a lot like patients, their expectations are set, and they will either be met or missed.

Each time expectations are missed, the expectation bar is lowered. Soon, the expectation bar is set so low it’s difficult to miss them, but miss them we do. What happens next? Patients leave. They leave and go somewhere they know will also fail to meet their expectations. However, they’d rather give their money to someone who may disappoint them than somebody who continued to disappoint them.

What do you think?

EHR: I may have found a shortcut

How able are you to conjure up your most brainless moment—don’t worry, we aren’t on the EHR part yet.

As I was running in San Diego I was passed by a harem of seals—Navy Seals.  Some of them were in better shape than me, I couldn’t judge the fitness of the others as they ran by me too fast.  That got me thinking.  For those who having been regular readers, you’ll know this is where I have a tendency to drive myself over a cliff.

Seeing the Seals took me back to my wistful days as a cadet at the US Air Force Academy.  Coincidentally, my hair looked then a lot like it looks now.  One of the many pastimes they tossed our way for their amusement and our survival was orienteering; sort of map reading on steroids.  One night they took us to the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, paired off the doolies, gave us a set of map coordinates, a compass, map, and flashlight.  The way training worked, those who proved to be the fastest at mastering skills fared better than those who weren’t.  Hence, there was plenty of incentive to outperform everyone; including getting yourself to believe you could do things better than you could, sort of a confidence building program.

We were deposited in a large copse—I’ve always liked that word—of trees—I don’t know, but it seems adding trees to the phrase is somewhat redundant.  We had to orient ourselves and then figure out how to get to five consecutive locations.  The sun had long since set as we made our way through the treed canyon and back up a steep ravine.  After some moments of searching we found the marker indicating we were at point Able.  The group started to examine the information that would direct our journey to point Bravo.

While they honed their skills, I was examining the map, taking some bearings with the compass, and trying to judge the terrain via the moonlight.  My roommate, a tall lanky kid from Dothan, Alabama asked why I didn’t appear to be helping.

“Look at this,” I replied.  “Do you see that light over there, just to the right of that bluff?  I think I’ve found us a shortcut.”

“What about it?”  Asked Dothan.

“If my calculations are correct, that light is about here,” I said and showed them on my map.  “It can’t be more than a hundred yards from point Delta.”

“So?”

“So why go from Alpha to Bravo to Charlie to Delta, if we can go right to Delta from here?  That will knock off at least an hour.”  I had to show my calculations a few times to turn them into believers, but one by one they came aboard.  The moon disappeared behind an entire bank of thunderheads.  We were uniformly upbeat as we made our way in the growing blackness through the national forest.  Unlike the way most rains begin, that night the sky seemed to open upon us like a burst paper bag.

“Get our bearing,” I instructed Dothan.  As it was my idea, I was now the de facto leader.  As we were in a gully, getting our bearings required Dothan to climb a large evergreen.

“I don’t see it,” he hollered over the wind-swept rain squalls.  I scurried up, certain that he was either an idiot or blind.

“Do you see the light?”  They asked me.  I looked again.  Checked my map.  Checked my compass.  “It has to be there,” I yelled.

A voice floated up to me.  To me I thought it probably sounded a lot like the voice Moses heard from God as he was building the Ark.  (Just checking to see if you’re paying attention.)  “What if they turned off the light?”

I almost fell out of the tree like an apple testing the laws of gravity.  What if someone had turned off the light?  There was no ‘what if’ to consider.  That is exactly what happened.  Some inconsiderate homeowner had turned off their porch light and left us stranded.

Fast forward.  We were lost, real lost.  We didn’t finish last, but we did earn extra exercise the next day, penalized for being creative.  Who’da thunk it?

Short cuts.  When they work, you’re a headliner.  When they fail, chances are you’re also a headliner—writing the wrong kind of headlines.  I hate being redundant, but with EHR we may be dealing with the single largest expenditure in your organization.  It will cost twice as much to do it over as it will to do it right.  If you haven’t done this before—I won’t embarrass anyone by asking for a show of hands—every extra day you add to the planning process will come back to you several fold.  There may be short cuts you can take, but planning should not be one of them.  How much should we plan?  How long should it take?  Who should participate?  We will look at each of those questions in some detail.  For now, let’s answer those three questions with; more than you think, longer than you’ve planned for it to take, and different skills than you’re currently using.saint

Spilt Tea: Why companies choose to fail

At one time the single word Lubyanka was enough to bring normal Russians to their knees in terror.  Lubyanka is known best for being the headquarters of the Soviet secret police.  The basement of Lubyanka housed a prison which contained one hundred and eleven cells, cells used to hold and interrogate political prisoners during Russia’s purge.

Tea was provided to the prisoners twice each day.  A prisoner within each prison cell would place a teapot outside the cell. A prisoner, carrying a pail filled with tea, would pour tea from the pail into the teapot.

Tea spilled on to the floor.  The prisoner would clean the spilt tea with a rag.

Lubyanka’s prison operated for twenty-seven years.  Tea was served to the one hundred and eleven cells and spilled in front of each cell twice a day, seven hundred and thirty times a year.

Two million, one hundred eighty eight thousand spills.  The same number of cleanups.

Someone somewhere made the decision that it was easier or cheaper to spill and sop the water 2,188,000 times than it was to make pails with spouts on them.

What are the pails in your company?  What dumb, wasteful, redundant activities and processes have been left unchanged?

The most obvious one for most companies is call centers.

It is easier to take 2,188,000 calls each year about your bills than it is to fix the bills.  It is easier to take 2,188,000 calls each year about the bills than it is to get rid of the bills.  The same argument applies to a number of other processes.

And do you know where the fallacy in the argument is?  The fallacy comes from the erroneous belief that by having a call center, by answering calls you are actually providing your customers a service.

You are not.  All you are doing is wiping up spilt tea.

Patient Experience as experienced by the patient…

…is not a pretty picture.

At least that is how it seemed to me today during my son’s visit to a specialist at a renowned children’s hospital.  The hospital uses and equally renowned EHR–you can substitute the name of your favorite EHR and the story remains as relevant.

Actual face-time with the doc–30 minutes.  The clinical side of the patient experience was perfect. It could not have been any better–I awarded her bonus points.

Here’s the part I think most hospitals are missing.  There is another part of the Patient Experience which has little or nothing to do with the patient. It is also the part which lingers most in my memory and the one about which I am quick to repeat to others.  What part is that? It is the part that involves all of the non-clinical processes associated with the visit, such as:

  • Complete the forms-could have been done online
  • Provide the insurance information-was done the last two visits
  • Wait
  • Schedule the next appointment
  • Wait
  • Print out the results of this visit
  • Wait
  • Settle the charges
Total time spent on the non-clinical patient experience–30 minutes.
Any time a patient visit requires another family member or guardian to be present, Patient Experience Management by definition becomes Family Experience Management. Instead of poor processes wasting one person’s time, the time of two people are wasted by being inefficient and ineffective.
“How was the visit?” Asked my wife.
“Fine,” I reported. And then I spent two minutes telling her about the bad experience I had dealing with the non-clinical processes, those processes involved with running the business.
So, it was great to know my son is healthy, but we sort of knew that going in. It wasn’t great to be subjected to the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of their processes and systems.  What will I remember about that experience as I am driving him to his next appointment? Will I remember how well he is doing and how professional the doctor is?  Or, will I remember to plan for an additional thirty minutes to allow the staff to perform all of the automated business processes to check us in and out?
The purpose of this post is to get us thinking that Patient Experience Management and Family Experience Management has to do with everything that happens from the time the person enters the facility until they leave it. If the only good part of the experience occurs during the examination, then the overall patient experience as experienced by the patient can be no better than mediocre.

EHR: The 40-chicken crocodile

Got a couple hundred million burning a hole in your pocket?  Why not buy an EHR?  Indeed.

Riddle me this Batman, “What is a 40 chicken crocodile?”

It is the number of chickens you have to feed it each day to keep it from eating you. What is the crocodile at your hospital?  Is it your EHR?

Let me recount to you a true story about the details of one of the EHR “success” stories.  A major hospital who selected their EHR from among one of what I like to call the oligopoly EHR Flavor of the Month Club.  You know the suspects.

Permit me to throw a wrench to those clairvoyants who think they know where this is going before I’ve even written it.  Admittedly, I have a tendency to throw metaphorical tomatoes in one direction—that of the vendors.  That’s because, they are often easy targets.  Slow down Pepito.

This hospital, and from what I was told, the vendor, did it right.  I am not sure I would have differed from the approach of either.  The hospital spent a few years in its vendor selection process, and they were very thorough.  They spent two years building their process maps, ensuring the vendor implemented the EHR to meet their needs, not the other way around.  Operations led the nine-figure project.

They implemented many of the support functions and a few of the specialty functions.  Here come the chickens.  After implementation, cash flow dropped by 80 percent for several months due to significant issues they encountered cleaning up the revenue side.  Doctors were instructed to cut their hours by fifty percent to allow them to learn to use the system.  Hours are still down by twenty percent, well more than a year later.  Users use about one-third of the functionality, even after a rigorous training program.

The hospital held off doing most of the clinical implementations for two years.

I asked for some recommendations.  What would you have done differently?  Here’s what I learned.  If you have a research organization you need to spend extra special attention to their workflows.  Managing post-go-live was a big issue to begin to offset productivity losses. Without a continuous process improvement program the EHR would not have been accepted. Do not pick a go-live date at the outset of the project as it causes the organization to be paralyzed simply to hit the date.  Testing was compromised to meet the go-live date. The post go-live issues are still being fought.  Do not let the design or build teams skimp on either reporting or testing, they are still playing catch-up.

So, after doing a pretty bang up job, at least from where I sit, there are still a lot of chickens being fed to the crocodile.  Wonder how many chickens it would have taken had the users not been as involved as they were.  How many had the users not spent two years pre-build defining processes?  A lot.  Now comes the rest of the clinical effort.  See you at the poultry counter.

 

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.”

 

EHR’s Gordian knot

There were four of us, each wearing dark suits and sunglasses, uniformly walking down the street, pausing at a cross-walk labeled “consultants only”—I think it’s a trick because a lot of drivers seem to speed up when they see us. We looked like a bad outtake from the movie Reservoir Dogs. We look like that a lot.

Why do you consult, some ask? It beats sitting home listening to Michael Bolton or practicing my moves for, So You Think You Can Dance, I tell them.

Listening to the BBC World News on NPR whilst driving, there’s one thing I always come away with—they’re always so…so British. No matter the subject—war or recession—I feel like I should be having a proper pot of tea and little cucumber sandwiches with the crusts removed; no small feat while navigating the road.

Today’s conversation included a little homily about the Gordian knot with which the company Timberland is wrestling, questioning whether as a company Timberland should do well, or do good. (Alexander the Great attempted to untie such a knot, and discovered it had no end (sort of like a Möbius strip, a one-sided piece of paper–pictured above. (For the truly obtuse, among which I count myself, the piece of paper can be given a half twist in two directions; clockwise and counter-clockwise, thereby giving it handedness, making it chiral—when the narrative gets goofy enough, sooner or later the Word dictionary surrenders as it did with chiral.))) I’m done speaking in parentheses.

Should they do well or good? Knowing what little command some people have of the English language, those listeners must have wondered, why ask a redundant question. Why indeed? That’s why I love the English, no matter the circumstances they, they refuse to stoop to speaking American.

Back to Gordo and his knot. That was the point of the knot. One could not have both—sorry for the homonym. Alexander knew that since the knot had no end, the only way to untie it was to cut it. The Gordian knot is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem, and the solution is called the “Alexandrian solution”.

To the question; Well or good. Good or evil. Are the two choices mutually exclusive? For an EHR? They need not be. The question raised by the BBC was revenue-focused (doing well) versus community or green-focused (doing good). My question to the reader is what happens if we view EHR with this issue as an implication, a la p→q.Let’s review a truth table:

if P equals if Q equals p→q is
define requirements increase revenues TRUE
play vendor darts increase revenues FALSE
ignore change management increase revenues FALSE
no connectivuty increase revenues FALSE
new EHR software increase revenues FALSE
change processes increase revenues TRUE
eliminate waste increase revenues TRUE
decrease redundancy increase revenues TRUE
Strong PMO increase revenues TRUE

From a healthcare provider’s perspective the answers can be surprising; EHR can be well and good, or not well and not good.  The Alexandrian solution for EHR is a Alexandrian PMO.

Have your people call my people–we’ll do lunch.