Patient Experience Management is abi-normal

I remember the first time I entered their home I was taken aback by the clutter.  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 open windows, the stuff blows right in.”

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.”

Trying to assume the role of thought leader I asked, “Why don’t you shut your windows? It seems like that would solve a lot of your problems.”

She looked at me 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 Patient Experience Management (PEM). The normal has been subsumed by the abnormal, and in doing so is slowing devouring the resources of the hospital.

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 daily. When I talk to people about a statistic that indicates that 500 people called yesterday about their bill, and everyone looks calm and collected, 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 the high call volume they always have an answer, the same answer.  “Billing calls are usually around 500 a day.”  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 bad things get, as long as they are consistently bad, there not bad at all.

This is the mindset that enables the PEM manager (I know you don’t have one—I am being facetious) to be fooled by his or her own metrics. When is someone going to understand that repeatedly having thousands of people calling to tell your organization you have a problem, means you have a problem?

It would probably take less than a week to pop something on your web site, and post a YouTube video explaining how to read the bill.  Next week, do the same thing and help patients understand how to file claims and disputes—granted, you may need more than a week for this one.

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.

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.

Social CRM meets Customer Equity Management

During my run today I passed a home whose appearance made it look like an antipodean group of internationally renowned architects had competed to design the world’s ugliest building.  I forced my mind to focus on something else, like why the US has yet to invade Canada.

I enjoy writing as do many of us.  However, I have come to believe that most of us have the ability to write a sentence in some semblance of English.  What seems to separate the good writers from the less gifted is their ability to blend disguise the joins between the sentences in such a way that they do not show.  Worse yet, there are those writers whose attempt to communicate is a pox in the same unrestrained style of prose put into play by a Chinese man selling used Volkswagen Beetles along the back streets of Puerto Rico.

Judging the literary skills of some, it would appear they are wrestling with the parts of speech and fighting a losing match.  These are the same individuals who were they to write about a famous religious figure would name the Flying Nun, unaware of the non sequitur.

Oh well, enough of that, back to the business of changing business.  There may be a few dozen firms that ‘get it’…Amazon, Apple, Ebay.  The rest of them, yours included, are still busy trying to change their customers and prospective buyers to make them buy things according to their notion of how the selling and buying process works.  These are the same firms who think CRM, customer relationship management, is a valuable management tool.

CRM is everything it never was.

When a customer or prospect walks into your facility, or sees your organization online, everything you thought you knew about your business and about them is over.  The thing most firms miss is understanding that the market power has shifted from the business to the customer.

See if you can answer this question.  What is an iPhone, or a Kindle Fire?

They are shopping carts.  The moment a customer picks up the device they begin thinking about what they are going to put into that shopping cart.

The same process works whether a customer is walking into an auto dealer, a patient is walking into a hospital, or a subscriber turns on their television.  They are ready to make a buying decision and most firms are trying to manage them—good luck.

These people—customers—have done their homework, their due diligence on your firm and you offerings.  My sense of that if you were to segment customers by those who did their homework and those who did not, those who do are going to be the customers who spend the most.

The smart firms have stopped trying to manage their customers.  The very smart firms are using the social web to facilitate their customers shopping experience.

Customer Equity Management.  What is one customer or patient or subscriber worth?

 

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.

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 Spandex Insecurity—the Ego has Landed

Now before you get all upset about the sexist picture, at least read a little bit of this to see why I selected it. Yesterday morning, five miles into my run, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had passed seven runners, had a nice comfortable rhythm, no insurmountable aches, and Crosby Stills & Nash banging away on my MP3. I don’t like being passed—never have. Some people say I’m competitive. They say other things too, but this is a family show.

I’m a mile away from my car when I see a slight blurring movement out of the corner of my left eye. A second later I am passed by a young woman wearing a blue and yellow, midriff revealing spandex contraption. Her abs are tight enough that I could have bounced a quarter off of them. She is pushing twins in an ergonomic stroller that looked like it was designed by the same people who designed the Big Wheel. I stared at her long enough to notice that not only was she not sweating, she didn’t even appear winded. She returned my glance with a smile that seemed to suggest that someone my age should consider doing something less strenuous—like chess. Game, set, match.

Having recovered nicely from yesterday’s ego deflation, today at the gym I decide to work out on the Stairmaster, the one built like a step escalator. I place my book on the reading stand, slip on my readers—so much for the Lasik surgery, and start to climb.

Five minutes into my climb, a spandex clad woman chipper enough to be the Stepford twin of the girl I encountered on my run mounts the adjoining Stairmaster. We exchange pleasantries, she asks what I’m reading, and we return to our respective workouts. The first thing I do is to toss my readers into my running bag. I steal a glance at the settings on her machine and am encouraged that my METS reading is higher than hers, even though I have no idea whether that is good or bad.

Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes. I am thirsty, and water is dripping off me like I had just showered with one of Kohler’s full body shower fixtures. I want to take a drink and I want to towel off, but I will not be the first to show weakness. Sooner or later she will need a drink. I can hold out, I tell myself. Twenty-five minutes—she breaks. I wait another two minutes before drinking, just to show her I really didn’t need it.
She eyeballs me. Game on. She cranks up her steps per minute to equal mine. Our steps are in synch. I remove my hands from the support bars as a sign that I don’t need the support. Without turning my head, I can see that she’s noticed. She makes a call from her cell to demonstrate that she has the stamina to exercise and talk.

When she hangs up I ask her how long she usually does this machine—we are approaching forty minutes and I am losing feeling in my legs. She casually replies that she does it until she’s tires, indicating she’s got a lot left in her. I tell her I lifted for an hour before I started; she gives me a look to suggest she’s not buying that. I add another ten steps a minute to my pace. She matches me step for step.

Fifty minutes. I’m done toying with her. I tell Spandex I’m not stopping until she does. She simply smiles. Her phone rings and she pauses her machine—be still my heart—and talks for a few minutes. I secretly scale down my pace, placing my towel over the readout hoping she won’t notice. She steps down from the machine. My muscles are screaming for me to quit, but I don’t until I see that she’s left the gym.

Victory at any cost. What’s the point? For what was lost, for what was gained (McKendree Spring). Men and women. Customers and companies. Most parties will deny they are competing, yet neither will yield. The customer is always right–Turns out it makes a better bumper sticker than it does a business philosophy. Nobody’s business policies reflect that attitude. If anything, were you to listen to what CSRs are instructed to do for the callers and compare that with what they are instructed not to do for the callers, it’s clear that their mandate is to minimize the negative impact to the firm, without regard to the negative impact to the customer. Remember the last time you tried to dispute an insurance claim?