Dinner’s warm, it’s in the dog–Patient Expectations

ImageLet’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.

PEM can be a number of things; Patient experience management, Patient equity management, and Patient expectation management. In this instance, we are discussing the latter. 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, their 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.

Patient Relationship Management (PRM)

orienteering1A few weeks back I fly to San Diego. Having forgone the luxury of paying two dollars for a cup of lukewarm burnt coffee I gaze out the window through the haze to the landscape below—below is one of those redundant words since if I’m gazing at the landscape above we must be flying inverted, in which case I should be assuming the crash position. It’s amazing how clear everything becomes from 30,000’. I can see clearly where I want to go. Looking at the highways, one would think it difficult to ever get lost; follow the white line, turn right at the lake, then follow the next white line.

Lost is a lot easier when you are on the ground. I got a GPS for Christmas because in Philly, I am the king of lost. I’ve lived here 13 years and driven to the city on my own three times, and I don’t anticipate a fourth. I’ve traveled the world without a map, but put me in my own backyard and it’s an instant panic attack. That wasn’t the case when I lived in Denver, Colorado. Colorado was easy; there were three cities of note and a mountain range, so I always knew where I was.

Or, almost always. The first time I lived in Colorado my room and meals were free, courtesy of the US Air Force Academy—so were the haircuts. Basic training is an exercise one must experience to fully comprehend. We had about a thousand Alpha eighteen year-olds being yelled at by a thousand Alphas two years older. I learned early on that the best way to excel was to turn the entire experience into a competition, us against them—outthink, outwit, outlast—sort of like Survivor in uniforms. Several weeks into basic, we left the relative comforts of the academy and moved en-mass to a camp ground called Jack’s Valley—KOA on steroids. We did all sorts of fun things at camp; shined boots, raked dirt, learned how to kill with a bayonet.

And since the Air Force knew that wars weren’t always fought during the day, we did a number of nighttime activities. One such activity involved a compass, a partner, and a very dark forest. I think the idea of the exercise was to teach us how to find our way home if we were shot down. We’d been up since five, so naturally I was looking for a way to shorten the exercise while still scoring the maximum number of points. We were given our first compass bearing and we headed into the night in search of our next bearing. About an hour into the exercise I did an extrapolation based on the azimuth of the sun and the number of pieces of bubble gum it would take to fix a flat tire, and I told my partner I had a pretty good idea about where we were supposed to wind up the exercise. I argued that if I was right we could save ourselves more than an hour. He argued that were I wrong, we would finish last. I must have swayed him. We took a bearing on a light we could see from out spot in the forest. The light was from the city of Colorado Springs. We dashed through the forest, every hundred yards or so, stopping only long enough to recalibrate our bearing. We were making great time.

There’s a funny thing about lights. Sometimes they’re on. And sometimes, when you’re dashing through a forest with a compass in the middle of the night, someone turns them off. For those not familiar with the sport of orienteering, if that is the only fixed point you have to determine your position relative to everything on the planet, having the light go out will hinder your score. It did ours. There’s last, and then there’s so last that people have to come and find you in the very dark forest. This meant that the people whose job it was to yell at me during the day were going to miss their sleep all on account of my bright idea. They were highly motivated yellers the next day.

So much for my visionary idea. We were discussing that one of the basic requirements of the patient experience champion is their ability to visualize. In addition to being able visualize the end game, the vision must be credible. One can’t say follow me into the forest without knowing how to get to the other side. That said, the point of the exercise is that the first thing the champion must do is to define the vision. The roadmap will follow, but you have to know what the future will entail. We call that your “to be” state. Today is your “as is”, and the difference between the two is your Gap. If it sounds simplistic, that’s because we haven’t done anything yet. If you want to see how many people you have in your camp, start kicking around your notion of your “to be” model.