EHR: What are the voices in your head telling you?

My favorite thing about healthcare is having witnessed it up close and personal both as a cancer patient in the 80’s and as the survivor of a heart attack seven years ago.

I was fortunate enough to have testicular cancer before Lance Armstrong made it seem kind of stylish.  Caught early, it’s one of the most curable cancers.  As those who’ve undergone the chemo will attest, the cure is almost potent enough to kill you.

I self-diagnosed while watching a local news cast in Amarillo where I was stationed on one of my consulting engagements.  As we were having dinner, my fellow consultants voted to change the channel—I however had lost my appetite.  I went to my room, looked in Yellow Pages—see how times have changed—and called the first doctor I found.  This is one of those times when Never Wrong Roemer hated being right.

So, yada, yada, yada; my hair falls out in less time than it took to shower.  A few more rounds of chemo, the cancer’s gone and I start my see America recovery Tour, my wig and I visiting friends throughout the southeast.  If I had it to do over, I would go without the wig, but at twenty-seven the wig was my security blanket.  I don’t think it ever fooled anyone or anything—even my house plants snickered when I wore it around them.

I owned a TR-7 convertible—apparently it never lived up to its billing as the shape of things to come, more like the shape of things that never were.  My wig blew out of the convertible as I made my way through Smokey Mountain National Park.  I spent twenty minutes walking along the highway until I spotted what looked like a squirrel laying lifelessly on the shoulder—my wig.

The last stop on my tour was at a friend’s apartment in Raleigh.  Overheated from the long drive and the August sun, I decided to take a few laps in her pool.  I dove in the shallow end, swam the length of the pool, performed a near-flawless kick-turn and eased in to the Australian Crawl.  As I turned to gasp for air, I noticed I was about to lap my hair.  I also noticed a small boy, his legs dangling in the water, with a look of astonishment on his face.

My ego had reached rock bottom and had started to dig.  Realizing my wig wasn’t fooling anyone but me, I had one of those “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em moments” and never again wore the wig after learning it was such a poor swimmer.

Do you get those moments, or get the little voice telling you that your EHR that the users would rather enter patient data on an Etch-A-Sketch?  It’s okay to acknowledge the voices as long as you don’t audibly reply to them during meetings—I Twitter mine.

Sometimes the voices ask why we didn’t include the users in the design of the EHR.  Other times they want to know how that correspondence course in project management is coming along.  It’s okay.  As long as you’re hearing the voices you still have a shot at recovery.  It’s only when they quit talking that you should start to worry.  Either that, or try wearing a wig.

New thoughts on EHR and ARRA money

So, there I was, laying out my plans for 2012.  I had started training to become the first person to cross the English Channel on horseback, but I was having difficulty finding a company to sponsor me.  Given my reputation as a water-walker, several firms indicated they would sponsor me to walk it, but I have never been one to do things the easy way.

Scratch the horse idea.

Then it hit me.  I’ve decided to retrace the footsteps of the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl in his quest to travel from Peru to Pacific Polynesia on a raft made from natural materials.  His book Kon-Tiki narrates his 101 day journey.

But since balsa wood is scarce, I will need some other readily available material I can lash together to build my vessel.  (Have you figured out where this is headed?)

With so many broken EHRs littering the dustbins, I figured why not?  I bought them for pennies on the million and had them shipped to the seaport of Callao.  I hired a few systems integrators to integrate the various platforms; McKesson and EPIC formed the major components of the hull, and several copies of AllScripts served as decking.

Launch is set for April 1 of this year.  My backup plan in case this fails is to use all of the unclaimed ARRA money, convert it into single dollar bills, and lay it on the water in front of me, bill by bill, for 4,000 miles.  I know this is a bit extravagant, but I hate to see all that money go to waste.

EHR’s marmalade-and-toast hypothesis

Les choses son contre nous—things are against us.  EHR is the marmalade-and-toast hypothesis, that the marmalade-side will land on the carpet when the toast falls from the breakfast plate, played out in bits and bytes.  Resistentialism is the belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy towards human beings.  If one were to view the marmalade-toast through the glasses of resistentialism one would conclude that the likelihood of the toast laying marmalade-side down increases with the cost of the carpet. So it is with the EHR.  Your expensive EHR is laying marmalade-side down on a very expensive carpet.

EHR has created an air of technostalgia with users yearning for the bygone days when the technology involved a number two pencil and a pad of paper.  Now that you are using your EHR system, do you ever wonder how different the experience of using it would have been if someone had asked for your input about what the EHR should do?  Would merely asking have solved the EHR myopia that was brought about by those who implemented it, implemented it without involving a single systems designer?

That this problem even exists is demonstrated by the fact that to use the EHR required hours of training.  Users sat there like sock puppets listening to the buzzword-bingo put forth by the trainers.  This should have been the clue that none of what they were about to learn was intuitive or self-evident.  The reason they offer EHR training is to explain “This is how you get the system to do what you need it to do,” because without viewing it that way it will not do anything.

The EHR has turned a lot of normally complacent physicians and nurses into stress puppies.  To understand how far amiss the functioning of the EHR is from what the users had hoped it would be all one has to do is observe it being used.  How many doctors and nurses have apologized to a patient during an exam because of something related to the EHR?  “Sorry this is taking so long…If you will just bear with me while I figure out how to do this…When the nurse returns I will get her to show me how to schedule your next appointment.”

If ever there was a time to have employed defensive pessimism, the implementation of EHR was such a time.  Users went into the project skeptimistic, certain it would go badly.  As niche worriers doctors and nurses imagined all the ways that the EHR would under deliver and would make their jobs more difficult, and they watched their stress portfolios rise.  The forgotten task was that nobody mapped out ways to avert the damage.

That this jump-the-shark problem can and should be corrected by something not much larger than a two-pizza team—a team small enough that it can be fed by two pizzas—seems to have escaped the reason of many.

Many are guilty of treating the productivity drop brought on by EHR as a problem with no solution.  If a problem has no solution it is not a problem, it is a fact.  And if it is a fact it is not to be solved, but coped with over time.  There is way too much coping going on.

The EHR productivity drop can be undone.  It will not be undone by redoing the training.  It will be undone by assessing the human factors and user experiences of those using the EHR, by researching how they users want to use it, and by reconfiguring the user interface.

This is not cheap, but it is much less expensive than the cost of loss productivity.


The Real Reason Your EHR Failed, And What To Do About It

This is the title for my new blog at I would love to read what you think

EHR: What questions remain unanswered?

“We need to talk about your TSP reports.”  Office Space—Possibly the best movie ever made. Ever worked for a boss like Lumbergh? Here’s a smart bit of dialog for your Wednesday.

Peter Gibbons: I work in a small cubicle. I uh, I don’t like my job, and, uh, I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.

Joanna: You’re just not gonna go?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah.

Joanna: Won’t you get fired?

Peter Gibbons: I don’t know, but I really don’t like it, and, uh, I’m not gonna go.

Joanna: So you’re gonna quit?

Peter Gibbons: Nuh-uh. Not really. Uh… I’m just gonna stop going.

Joanna: When did you decide all that?

Peter Gibbons: About an hour ago.

Joanna: Oh, really? About an hour ago… so you’re gonna get another job?

Peter Gibbons: I don’t think I’d like another job.

Joanna: Well, what are you going to do about money and bills and…

Peter Gibbons: You know, I’ve never really liked paying bills. I don’t think I’m gonna do that, either.

One more tidbit:

Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door – that way

Lumbergh can’t see me, heh heh – and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.

Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

I like to think of Peter as my alter-ego.

When I’m playing me in a parallel universe, I’m reading about a surfer dude cum freelance physicist, Garrett Lisi. Even the title of his theory, “An exceptionally simple theory of everything,” seems oxymoronic. He surfs Hawaii and does physics things—physicates—in Tahoe. (I just invented that word; it’s the verb form of doing physics, physicates.)

Ignoring that I can’t surf, and know very little physics, I like to think that Garrett and I have a lot in common. I already know Peter Gibbons and I do. So, where does this take us?

It may be apparent that I look at EHR from a different perspective than many of others involved in this debate; I’m the guy who doesn’t mind yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. The guy who will never be invited to speak at the HIT convention unless they need a heretic to burn for the evening entertainment. I can live with that.

Like Garrett, I too see an exceptionally simple theory in everything, especially when it comes to improving business. It’s not rocket surgery, but then, it was never meant to be. You’ve seen the people running it, they are definitely not rocket surgeons—before someone writes, I know it should be scientists.

Sometimes I like to look at the problem from a different dementia—Word didn’t have a problem with that usage. I look at the productivity loss brought about by EHR and ask myself three questions:

1. Why do people really believe that retraining the end users will help–training them did nothing good for productivity?

2. Why are many hospitals thinking that scrapping their EHR and putting in a new one will improve productivity?

3. Why are their no major initiatives to recapture the lost productivity?

What do you think?

Healthcare Social Media: How to put it to work for you

A cold wind is blowing in from the north, blowing so hard that at times that the rain seems to be falling sideways, echoing off the windowpanes like handfuls of pea gravel. The leaves from the walnut trees, that had prematurely yellowed, dance a minuet as they slowly make their way to the ground in the woods. It feels like the first day of fall, a day for jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and a pair of long woolen socks. The temperature has nosedived. On a normal day, the first indication of sunrise would have begun to push the darkness from the sky. But today is not a normal day. The clouds are hanging low and gray against the dark sky.

The garage door creaked and moaned as it rose along the aluminum track. Halogen headlights pierced the darkness. Its driver, an unkempt and rather rotund woman in her 40s eased the car down her driveway and proceeded through the still slumbering neighborhood. She was a friendless woman, who along with her husband and daughter kept to herself. The neighborhood children were afraid of her, too frightened to retrieve a ball if it fell into her yard and certainly too scared to Trick-or-Treat at her home.

“Were those your dogs barking? I was asleep,” she screeched at me as she exited the car wearing her oversized pajamas. The site alone was enough to frighten children and a few grown men. “I’m going to find out whose dogs were barking,” she chided. “And when I do, someone will be hearing from me. I took my last neighbors to court because their dog barked. I don’t like children. I don’t like dogs. I don’t like yard work, and I don’t want to be invited to any community activities.” I feel pretty confident she won’t have to worry about being swamped by invitations.

It was actually almost ten in the morning the day she registered her complaint—dawn to some people I guess. Three days later, the letter arrived in the mail. The return address indicated it was from a homeowners association. The letter stated that if we couldn’t control the barking of our dogs that we would be reported to the community board of directors. For second, we didn’t know how to react—then we started to laugh. The reason for the laughter was simple; my wife is on the Board of Directors. It’s like the East German Stasi are alive and well and living in Pennsylvania. I can picture this woman hiding behind her drapes, her little steno pad in hand, recording each and every bark that disrupts her bliss.

She’s a tattletale, a 40-something whose problem solving skills never grew beyond that of a third grader. She lives right next door, 100 feet away. We’ve only seen her three times in the 28 months we’ve lived here. Six months ago she sent us a fax, complaining about something or other. A fax, mind you. To her next door neighbor. This is too easy. It’s social networking run amok. She has become my poster child for bad manners, a benchmark against which all subsequent social networking commentaries will be measured.

There are many good social networking opportunities, especially for large healthcare providers.  Such as?  Do you record the number of patient calls you get each year by call type?  The fully loaded cost of each call is probably somewhere around twenty dollars.  It costs a lot of money each time you answer the phone; do you spend it effectively?

What percentage of those calls are resolved the first time?  What percentage of those calls could be answered  more effectively without the phone? How do you answer a call without a phone?  By having the caller get what they need from some form of social media site.

Imagine that in less than a few months you redesign part of your web site and you develop several YouTube presentations to explain your bills better than any single person could explain it on the phone.  You could provide a similar service for patients who need help contacting their insurance company, and need help filing a claim.  The ROI on social media is significant, and it’s nicer than sending a fax.

Well, that’s it for the moment. I’m off to the store. I think I’m going to buy a third dog.

Business Innovation: Hamsters Only Bounce Once

Hamsters only bounce once—next time I will read the fine print.  This was the lesson I learned today from my thirteen-year-old son as he tried to hold my nine-year-old son’s hamster—I keep wanting to insert a ‘p’ after the ‘m’, but my inability to spell will not affect the hapmster’s condition.

So, from hamsters to the Soviets—those too young to remember the Soviets, Google it.  I am reading a book about the latter years of Stalin’s reign.  In the book Nikita Khrushchev, while dedicating a school, reportedly stated the USSR needed highly productive, healthy scientists, engineers, and gold-medal athletes.

The implication of Nikita’s pronouncement was the country did not need any poets, philosophers, and priests.  It needed productivity that could be measured and quantified; success that could be timed with a stopwatch.

Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but those few paragraphs reminded me immediately of how individual American corporations are run.  After all, is not that what our firms do?  We measure and quantify and time.  Whether it is earnings per share or inventory or supply change.  We tend to think and act that business success is all about the numbers, that if we study them hard enough, we will divine how to move forward.

How well is that working?  The hamster wheel is no longer spinning.  How many new ideas have resulted from the approach of quantification?  Every company can measure.  It just so happens what they have been measuring is declining revenues.

Things that do not measure well include strategy and innovation.  Firms cannot increase innovation by twenty percent or execute strategy fifteen seconds faster.  Perhaps there is merit in placing less emphasis on quantitative efforts.  Is it possible that a more qualitative focus would improve the quantitative results?

Innovation 101

The world continues to revolve and to rotate, and yet some mornings, like today, I find myself asking why bother.

Moammar Gadhafi—the name does not even pass Word’s spell check which should tell him something about his popularity—dressed in his Michael Jackson garage sale Thriller outfits is discovering quickly that his Lawrence of Arabia shtick is about as effective as is Congress’ pretense at leading from behind.  Speaking of which, now that Congress are back from Nebraska’s beaches, maybe they can save the country.

What else?  Kim Kardashian is married—whew, I thought that would never end, Jimmy Hoffa has sworn off drinking tea party, and Chaz, minus some of the important parts will be appearing as a man on Dancing with the Stars.  I will be appearing as a giraffe on Animal Planet.

The country keeps getting curiouser and curiouser and where does that leave your business in an economy that has gone Byzantine?  It appears choices are somewhat limited.  Firms can wait until the unknown influencers become known, they can wait for Washington to sort out who’s on first, or they can decide to innovate.

When I think of innovation I think of it as follows: knowledge plus need equals innovation.  To renew or change.  From a firm’s perspective, before innovation can have application, questions must be defined and answered:

·         What is the need:

  • Declining market share
  • Uncertain markets
  • Poor economic conditions
  • New technologies causing obsolescence
  • Entering new markets

·         What knowledge is required

·         What can be renewed

·         What must be changed

Doing today what you were doing yesterday is not the picture of innovating.  It is the first day of the last days of your business.  Moving your production to China, or your call center to India is not innovative, it is cutting cost.  Anyone can cut costs, until there are no more costs to cut.  Then what?  The most effective way to cut costs is to turn off the lights and lock the door.