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?

Patient Experience Management–what is it?

If you watch too much television your brain will fry. Sometimes I feel like mine is in a crepe pan that was left sitting on the stove too long. Two nights ago I’m watching Nova or some comparable show on PBS. The topic of the show was to outline all the events that took place that helped Einstein discover that the energy of an object is equal to its mass times the speed of light squared, better known as E=mc². It was presented to the audience at a level that might best be described as physics for librarians, which was exactly the level at which I needed to hear it. It’s physics at a level that is suitable for conversation at Starbucks or any blog such as this.

So here’s what I think I understood from the show. It tracked the developments of math and physics in 100 years prior to Einstein’s discovery. The dénouement appeared to occur when Einstein and his fiancée were riding in the bow of the small boat. Apparently, he was leaning over the side of the boat and noticed that the waves generated by the front of the boat moved at the same speed as the boat. He then noted that fact only held true for those persons in the boat, who were in fact, traveling at the same rate of speed. However for those persons watching from the shore, that same wave was not only moving slower than the boat it got further behind over time. Some other things occurred, yada, yada, yada, and there you have it. Clearly, the details are in the yada, yadas.

So here’s what happens when you watch too much television. As I’m running this morning somehow my mind takes pieces from that show and staples them together to yield the following. Let’s go back to the equation E=mc². For purposes of this discussion I’ll redefine the variables, so that:
E = the percentage of Patient Complaints/Inquiries.
m = Patient in-bound calls.
c = number of Patients
If this were true–this is an illustration, not an axiom–the percentage of complaints in the call centers of an healthcare provider is equal to the number of in-bound calls times the square of the number of patients. So as the number of calls increases the number of complaints/questions increases and as the number of patients increases the number of complaints increases exponentially. Of course this is made up, but there appears to be a grain of truth to it. As a number of calls increase the percentage of complaints is likely to increase, and as the number of patients increases there will probably be an even greater increase in the percentage of complaints incurred. I think we can agree that a reasonable goal for a healthcare provider is to decrease the percentage of complaints and perhaps to shift a hefty percentage of inquiries to some form of internet self-service vehicle.

I think sometimes the way providers like to assess the issue of Patient Experience Management  (PEM) is by looking at how much money providers throw at the problem. I think some people think that if one provider has 2 call centers, and another provider has 3 call centers, that the provider with 3 must be more interested in taking care of the their patients, and might even be better at PEM.  I don’t support that belief. I think it can be demonstrated that the provider with the most call centers, and most Patient Service Representatives, and the most toys deployed probably has the most problems with their patients. I don’t think it’s a chicken and egg argument. If expenditures increase year after year, and resources are deployed continuously to solve the same types of problems, I think it’s a sign that the provider and its patients are growing more and more dysfunctional.

How does this tie to Einstein and his boat? Perhaps the Einsteins are those who work with the provider; those who are moving at the same speed, those in lockstep. From their vantage point, the waves and the boat, like the provider and its patients, are all moving forward at the same speed. Perhaps only the people standing along the shore are able to see what is actually occurring; the waves distance themselves from the boat in much the same way that the patients distance themselves from the provider.

PEM is such an easy way to see large improvements accrue to the provider, especially using social media.

Patient Experience Management: Why Men Can’t Boil Water

There was a meeting last week of the scions of the Philadelphia business community. The business leaders began to arrive at the suburban enclave at the appointed hour. The industries they represented included medical devices, automotive, retail, pharmaceutical, chemicals, and management consulting. No one at their respective organizations was aware of the clandestine meeting. These men were responsible for managing millions of dollars of assets, overseeing thousands of employees, and the fiduciary responsibility of international conglomerates. Within their ranks they had managed mergers and acquisitions and divestitures. They were group with which to be reckoned and their skills were the envy of many.

They arrived singularly, each bearing gifts. Keenly aware of the etiquette, they removed their shoes and placed them neatly by the door.

The pharmaceutical executive was escorted to the kitchen.

“Did your wife make you bring that?” I asked.

He glanced quickly at the cellophane wrapped cheese ball, and sheepishly nodded. “What are we supposed to do with those?” He asked as he eyeballed the brightly wrapped toothpicks that looked banderillas, the short barbed sticks a matador would use.

“My wife made me put them out,” I replied. “She said we should use these with the hors d’oeuvres.”

He nodded sympathetically; he too had seen it too many times. I went to the front door to admit the next guest. He stood there holding two boxes of wafer thin, whole wheat crackers. Our eyes met, knowingly, as if to say, “Et Tu Brutus”. The gentleman following him was a senior executive in the automotive industry. He carried a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. And so it went for the next 15 to 20 minutes, industry giants made to look small by the gifts they were forced to carry.

The granite countertop was lined with the accoutrements for the party. “It’s just poker,” I had tried to explain. My explanation had fallen on deaf ears. There is a right way and a wrong way to entertain, I had been informed. Plates, utensils, and napkins were lined up at one end of the counter, followed in quick succession by the crock pot of chili that had been brewing for some eight hours, the cheese tray, a nicely arrayed platter of crackers, assorted fruits, a selection of anti-pastas, cups, ice, and a selection of beverages. In the mind of our wives, independent of what we did for a living and the amount of power and responsibility we each wielded, we were incapable of making it through a four hour card game without their intervention.

I deftly stabbed a gherkin with my tooth pick. “Hey,” I hollered “put a coaster under that glass. Are you trying to get us all in trouble? And you,” I said to Pharmacy Boy, “Get a napkin and wipe up the chili you spilled. She’ll be back here in four hours, and we have to have this place looking just as good as when she left.”  I thought I was having the neighborhood guys over for poker; I was wrong. So were each of the other guys. We had been outwitted by our controllers, our spouses. Nothing is ever as simple as it first appears. We didn’t even recognize we were being managed until they made themselves known.

Who’s managing the show at your hospital, you or the patients?  The answer to that question depends on who owns the relationship, who controls the dialog.  If most of the conversation about your organization originates with them, the best you are doing is reacting to them as they initiate the social media spin, or try to respond once the phone started ringing.  It’s a pretty ineffective way of managing.  It’s as though they dealt the cards, and they know ahead of time that you are holding nothing.

There are times when my manager isn’t home, times when I wear my shoes inside the house—however, I wear little cloth booties over them to make certain I don’t mar the floor.  One time when I decided to push the envelope, I didn’t even separate the darks from the whites when I did the laundry.  We got in an hour of poker before I broke out the mop and vacuum.  One friend tried to light a cigar—he will be out of the cast in a few weeks.

The Patient as Customer

The headline for a recently published McKinsey survey stated “Ninety percent of hospital CEOs ranked Patient Experience Management (PEM) as their first or second priority over the next three years.

Buried deep within the article was a throw away statement that little will be done regarding PEM because nobody knows who owns the patient.

Any journalism student worth their salt would tell you the real headline for the survey should read something like “Ninety percent of hospital CEOs and COOs do not know who owns the patient at their hospital.”

From a business perspective, in the conversation about patients and PEM one thing is always overlooked.  These people, the patients, also have a business avatar.  They are also customers.  PEM from a business perspective focuses on all the non-clinical aspects of the patients as a customer.

There are dozens of non-clinical processes that affect each customer (patient)—admissions, discharge, billing, scheduling, disputes, claims…

Many of these processes are ineffective and inefficient.  Many are redundant and duplicative.  Many add more cost than value.

If you want to improve the patient experience, look first at these.  You will be surprised by how much better your organization will be perceived.

Patient Experience Management: I hate to be a pest…

…but I inadvertently just proved my own point, albeit to myself. I have been fooling around–with my old MP3 player, and I couldn’t get it to turn off or on–that’s why my wife hides the power tools.

I ducked into a nearby phone booth and put on my SSCC (self-service customer care shirt)–do you realize most kids under the age of ten have never seen a phone booth? Sorry.

Off to Google. I never even considered going to the manufacturer’s web site. I typed, “Remove battery from Creative Vision:M.” Up pop several YouTube videos, each done by one of Creative’s customers, showing step-by-step with voice instructions explaining how to correctly remove the battery. I place a lot more faith in what a customer tells me than I do in what they firm tells me.  Your customers (patients and doctors) do the same thing.

The user manual that came with the device never mentions how to remove the battery.

And this is my point. Your patients know what your other patients need, and in what form it will be most useful. And, they are providing it. Now, how difficult would it be for a hospital, say your hospital, to start thinking about your patients as though you were a patient? Not very.

Of the few hospitals which have a Patient Experience Management (PEM) strategy or social media (SM) strategy, not too many are effective.  I’ve only seen one which uses those to increase revenues.  Most hospitals use PEM and SM to manage spin, to try to counteract what their patients are saying about them.  One can only imagine the impact a hospital could have by starting the spin, starting conversations about itself using these tools.

You know what?  You don’t have to imagine it.  It is probably the easiest project you will undertake.

Here’s a link to a PowerPoint deck on the subject of PEM.

http://www.slideshare.net/paulroemer/good-CEM-deck

Patient Experience Management (PEM): Left Brainers, Right Brainers, and No Brainers

Sometimes I feel a little like the ambassador from the planet Common Sense, and unfortunately very few of us speak the same language. Let’s see if we can segment the Patient Experience Management (PEM) population into left brainers, and right brainers. I am wrestling with an issue that I believe is a no-brainer.

One point, upon which both sides seem to agree, is that without the patients, PEM would be superfluous. The breakdown is that for a hospital to flourish in the long term, hospitals should re-engineer their business processes to facilitate the dissolution or substantive reduction of traditional customer service.  This extends beyond the cordial relationship of a nurse or a doctor and their patients in hospital beds.

In many, if not most instances, the very existence of traditional customer service provides a vehicle which acts as an enabler for failure. It gives hospitals permission to be mediocre in dealing with their interactions with their patients and physicians. In effect, traditional customer service is a tacit admission to the employees and the patients, “We don’t always get it right. We don’t always do our best.

Before deciding not to read further, ask yourself a few questions. The purpose of the questions is to try and articulate a quantifiable business goal for customer service, PEM.

1. Does customer service have planned revenue targets
2. Does it have its own P&L?
3. Does it have a measurable ROI?
4. What is the loaded cost for each patient and doctor interaction?
5. Could the costs of those interactions be eliminated by fixing something in operations?

If the answers to 1-3 are no, the answer to 4 is unknown, and the answer to 5 is yes, your hospital inadvertently made the decision to ignore revenues and to incur expenses that provide no value to your organization. I believe this premise can be proved easily.

The careers of many people are directly tied to the need to have customer service and call centers. Big is good. Bigger is better. Software, hardware, telecommunications, networks—more is better. Calls are the lifeblood of every call center. Without those calls, the call center dies. Calls are good, more calls are better.

When was the last time you were in a meeting when someone said something like, “In the last three years our patient call volume has continued to increase,” or, “Calls have gone up by forty percent.” That part may sound familiar. The phrase nobody has heard is, “We can’t continue to add that many calls.” Tenure and capital. That part of the business is managed with the expectation that the number of calls will continue to grow. And guess what? It does. How prophetic is that? Or is it pathetic? You decide.

Given that, how does the typical healthcare provider manage their customer service investment? Play with the numbers. In many organizations, if customer service management can show that patient satisfaction is holding steady, no matter how bad it is, and they can use the numbers to show that some indicator has moved in a favorable direction, other areas of the business are led to believe that customer service is performing well.

Memo to those executives who are authorizing customer service expenditures—I want to make sure there is no mistaking how I view the issue. If that is what you are hearing from your customer service managers, they either don’t understand their responsibility, or they understand it and they don’t want you to understand it.

To be generous, if patient satisfaction with regard to customer service is below ninety-five percent, your customer service is in serious need of a re-think. Just because patient satisfaction is not tanking faster does not mean customer service is functional.

Most executives know how to get numbers to paint whatever picture they need to paint. Beware the sleight of hand. Any time the customer service manager comes to you and says he is improving operations by reducing the average amount of time someone spends on the phone talking to a patient (average handle time), don’t believe anything else he tells you. Allow me to translate. When the customer service budget is tight (too many interactions and too few people with which to interact) the way to make it fit the budget is to make your people end the call quicker. Shorter calls mean more calls per hour. Note—speed buys you nothing, except for more repeat calls, less resolution, less patient satisfaction. It’s a measure of speed—IT IS NOT A MEASURE OF ACCOMPLISHMNET.

I’d be willing to bet that somewhere between twenty-five and fifty percent of calls from your patients and physicians can be addressed better via a combination of social media and the Internet.

Patient Relationship Mangement–who’s kidding who

(AP) New York. CNN reported that Patient Relationship Management (PRM) and Patient Experience Management (PEM) died. Services will be held next Monday at Dunkin Donuts. Patients are asked not to attend, but instead to forward their complaints to Rosie O’Donnell.

PRM is what hospitals tend to use; it measures against their standards.  It is a push model.  PEM is what patients tend to use; it is a pull model.

A fellow, David Phillips, wrote, “Relationships should be considered part of the intrinsic value of the corporation”—he is an auditor. A group of PhDs who concluded that the six components for measuring relationships include; mutuality, trust, commitment, satisfaction, exchange relationship, and communal relationship. I feel better just knowing that.

Patient Relationship Management—PRM. I hate being the one to break the news but, PRM is dead. I didn’t kill it. It’s dead because it never existed.  Relationship Management.  Who is actually measuring a relationship?  What unit of measure do you use to measure a relationship? Inches, foot-pounds, torque?  PRM carcasses are strewn about. You can’t manage what you can’t or don’t measure.

“What are you talking about?” She hollered. “We measure. We measure everything. If it’s got an acronym, we’ve got a measure for it. KPIs. CSFs. ACD. IVR. ATT. AHT. Hold time. Abandonments. Churn.”

Just because something is being measured, it doesn’t mean that the measure has anything to do with the desired outcome. Nobody has a single quantifiable metric that precisely points to the health of an individual patient relationship. Seems silly? No sillier than really believing you have an ability to manage something as ephemeral and esoteric as relationships.

Just how good are those relationships everyone thinks they’ve been managing? Five percent higher than last month?  Down three percent over plan?  Permit me a brief awkward segue. Joseph Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy, one million deaths are a statistic.” The point is that scale matters—a great deal.  One death versus a million.  One patient interaction versus millions.  It makes a difference. The things we do that impact patient experiences impact patients individually, one patient at a time.

PRM metrics in use at hospitals apply to patients—plural.  PRM metrics are benchmarks and averages—patients aren’t.  Hospitals measure against the masses, against the pool of patients.  The patient mass does not churn, does not leave your hospital, does not ask to speak to a supervisor.  Consider a patient, not a single metric.  Not a single measure in your hospital accurately depicts the success or failure of that patient’s experience.

So, what’s a hospital to do? Stop trying to manage your hospital’s performance by managing relationships.  Here’s what you can do, manage your hospital using things you can measure. Once you can measure it you can manage it.  A hospital can start by defining metrics for the following;

Patient Referral Management—how many patients came via referral?

Patient Resolution Management—how many patient problems were fixed?

Patient Recovery Management—how many patients did you win back?

Patient Retention Management—how many patients did you prevent from going elsewhere?

If you are the CIO, show the VP of Operations your ideas for tracking the answers to these questions. This is step one to having a real PEM program.  If you are really serious about having a patient experience management program, change the word “experience” to the word “equity.”  Patient Equity Management—all of a sudden you have something worth talking about.