Patient Experience Management–Manufacturing Consent

Manufacturing Consent

Foxnews reports “Russian police say they have discovered the body of a local politician reported missing last week, in a barrel of cement in a garage near Moscow. Another politician has been accused of ordering the murder, over an $80 million debt.”  So, we’ve got that going for us.

This weekend I caught a bit of NPR’s “Wait, wait don’t tell me.”  One of the guests was Al Gore.  Oscar winner, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, a Tony, and an Emmy. The host neglected to point out that Mr. Gore, former vice president of the United States and Internet founder is standing in line to cash a check for one hundred million dollars from Al Qaeda’s (Al Jazeera’s)—you say potato I say potahto.  I know I promised not to cross the line, but that is why you read this and not some missive from the CMS.

What does it mean if when you Google a topic all of the hits to that topic link to you?  It may not mean much if the topic you Googled is “sliding revolving doors.”  But what if the topic has slightly more potiential.

I Googled—v. past tense of Google—the term “Family Experience Management” and every returned URL is to something about which I wrote.  Just so you know, the groundswell begins today.

Perhaps before we get too carried away we should define Family Experience Management (FEM).  FEM is the set of interactions a “family” of a patient has regarding a family member’s interaction with various components of the healthcare system; providers, payors, pharmacies, Medicare.  It is the superset of interactions for patient experience management (PEM).

Most PEM efforts I have studied are like shutting the barn door after the horses get out.  I happen to think there is much greater value in stopping the processes that have led the way to opening the barn door in the first place.

There is reality and there is perception, and with regard to PEM, rarely the two shall meet.  Some things are just true, perception be damned.  That is why what is right should always supplant who is right.  That a majority of people within any given organization have the objectivity of an insider is why the top two prevailing business rules are ‘we can’t do that’ and ‘that will not work.’

A little dissent can be a healthy thing.  Or not. 

One of my favorite axioms is ‘You don’t ask directions from somebody who has never been where you’re going.’

I am a fan of a good adage, so let us try this one on for size.  A hospital executive falls into a hole—the ‘w’ is silent.  Someone from CMS walks by and the man in the hole hollers, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get out.”  The CMS acolyte tosses down a check, and the man replies, “What is this?”

“That’s some of the ARRA Meaningful Use Lottery. We’ve got tons of it that nobody is going to collect.

An hour later a seven sigma guru passes by.  The man in the hole hollers, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get out.”  Seven Sigma man tosses him a set of workflows and a stop watch and departs.

Days later a consultant happens along.  Recognizing the man’s plight the consultant hops into the hole.

“Why did you do that?” Queries the man.  “Now we are both stuck.”

“No worries,” says the consultant.  “I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

Sometimes, perhaps way too often, we get trapped by our own thinking.  By the misguided belief that we already know the correct solution, or we know that the one being proposed will never work.  This is like having my son telling me he does not like broccoli even though he has never tried broccoli. 

We get caught up in the notion that we already have a vision of how we want the world to be and we are willing to do anything to make the world conform to our vision.  We limit ourselves to the possible, to what has already been done.  If however, we limit ourselves to the possible, how does progress happen?

We need to be saved from the shortsighted politicalization of our own intelligence; progresses’ Catch-22.  Once everyone thinks they are thinking out-of-the-box, are they really, or have they simply moved the box.  Sometimes it is best to be the person advocating for coloring outside of the lines.

Patient Experience Management can benefit greatly if only a handful of people began to color outside of the lines.  This link is to a presentation of mine on SlideShare I have given on how to improve patient experience management, something I also call Patient Equity Management. 

You can download it or use a yellow highlighter to help you recall the tasty bits.

I welcome your thoughts, especially learning why you may think I may be all wet.

Thanks Al for making file sharing possible.

 

 

Patient Relationship Management (PRM)-grab the ball

My newest post on healthsystemCIO.com.  http://healthsystemcio.com/2010/07/07/patient-relationship-management-prm-grab-the-ball/

Why can nobody lead?

Bumble Bess & Red Velvet

Remember as kids trying to see how many bumble bees you could catch in a jar before you panicked and they all got lose? You couldn’t get the top all the way on and all of a sudden dozens of bees exited the jar as you raced across the field of clover. That’s how customers are. You try and catch as many as you can, but once they get out it’s over. So, here we go again. Social networking. We’ll get there in a moment.

For those old enough to remember Ronald Regan, what are you able to recall about high school? If you’re like me, much of it is selective. The web seems to be changing some of that. Classmates.com. Facebook. Ever notice how there are no rules? Anyone can get to anyone else. Unhindered. Uninvited.

There are those who never grew up, and there are those who never grew older-there’s a difference. Sometimes it’s a good thing. Like for instance trading emails with the girl in the red velvet dress, the one with whom you first slow danced in the ninth grade. The Internet, pretty neat little thing.

Then there’s the other side to the social networking coin. A darker side. Unless you happened to be among the minutia of students who gamboled care freely down the crowded halls during those four years believing that the school year book should contain only your picture, graduating high school gave you your out, gave you permission to euphemistically bury the bourgeoisie characters who needed burying. People who, when you were eighteen wouldn’t put you out if you were on fire, the very people who probably set you ablaze, now knock digitally on your Facebook door asking to befriend you. Did I miss something here? The part where my Facebook-buddy-wannabe says, “Now that we’re grownup, forget I was a jerk in high school, ignore the fact that I was dumber than a bowl of mice”—sounds like I may have missed one or two of my twelve-step meetings. Recovery is progressing well—really.

Just because a hospital is paranoid doesn’t mean their patients don’t hate them. Poltergeists. The undead. The kind of like patients you’d hope you’d never hear from. And yet, those are the very ones who bother to write. They write, and blog, and YouTube your hospital. They deliberately come back and haunt. Their haunts are reflected in higher costs, fewer patients, and higher churn. Isn’t technology great?

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

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When Patient Relationship Management Fails-call the cable guy

(This missive is somewhat long—this is where my mind goes when I run.)

Ever watch the show “This old House”? Something magical happens to a man when he watches somebody single-handedly rebuild a 6,000 year old home in a 30 minute program. After that no task seems too complex. As a normal male the first rule of thumb is to remember that having a master’s degree from a reputable university qualifies you for about anything short of brain surgery. The true Type A will often carry that step further by reminding himself that given another week or two of study that even brain surgery would not be that difficult.

I did a project in one of my prior homes. It involved the simple task of rearranging bedroom furniture one Sunday afternoon; 15 minute project, total cost—nothing. After all, how difficult could that be? The truth is the actual moving of furniture involved nothing more than I’d planned. Only when I thought I was done did I notice that the television set was now located a good 20 feet away from the cable television outlet. The obvious solution would be to simply move the furniture back to its original position.

Can’t do that. To move the furniture back to the original position is either admitting defeat, or that I wasn’t bright enough to realize that the cable outlet and the television would be on opposite ends of the planet by the time I finished. Besides, my wife had already seen the new arrangement and if I moved it back to its original position I would have to explain why.

So when she enters the room and asks why (and she will ask why—that’s her job) there is now a 25 foot piece of black coaxial cable snaking its way diagonally across her bedroom carpeting I had better be prepared to answer. Sometimes if you’re quick, real quick, you can try and bluff your way around the problem with a technical answer. You can try and explain that all of the static electricity that was created by sliding furniture across the carpet has caused the sonic membrane surrounding the fiber optical transponders in the coax to be 6 ohms off the medium allowable temperature variation for the building codes in your neighborhood. It is called stalling, allowing for a brief period of self-correction.

The truth, having failed me, the only other option left was to try something close to the truth. I’m forced to say I knew the cable would be at opposite ends of the room before I moved the furniture. My plan all along was to call the cable company and ask them to come to the house to install another outlet on the correct wall.

It’s my wife’s job to inquire how much it will cost—she did not fail me.  This is a clear case of me answering her question without bothering to think. It is important to have a clear understanding of the underlying issues before trying to resolve the problem. I mentioned it should cost forty dollars, and we will only need to leave the cable strewn across her bedroom floor for a few days. It’s then her job to say if we put the furniture back where it was we can solve both problems in twenty minutes. Besides, the cable technician left a mess the last time they did some work, and she wasn’t going to spend more money for poor service. Stay with me here, this is how it becomes her fault, and how it relates to the topic of Patient Relationship Management (PRM).

Once her issues were out in the open was a simple matter to devise a solution to address them.  The solution needed to be implemented quickly and it needed to be free. My answer came quickly—too quickly. Eighty percent of the problem could be handled by simply running the cable along the floor board, and then under the bed. That only left five feet of cable between me and a happy marriage. Unfortunately, the five feet in question is from the foot of the bed to the television and runs across the major walkway of the room, looking all the while like an undernourished blacksnake.  Did I mention she hates snakes?

Undaunted, I asked for a little assistance to move the bed. This accomplished, I headed for the garage to find exactly the proper tools for the proper job. I returned five minutes later, tools in hand. I was surprised to see the look of dismay on her face. As it turns out, her dismay resulted from the razor blade knife clutched in my hand. After twenty minutes of the best Boolean logic I could muster, I convinced her, or at least myself, that it would be a simple matter to cut a small hole in the carpet and force the cable underneath. After all, the bed would hide the hole.

The only other tool I thought I would require was a roll of duct tape and a 4’11” broom handle.  Women know we are confused about how to proceed the moment they see men rely on the duct tape gene. Most men, when cornered believe enough duct tape, properly applied, can serve as a panacea for anything up to and including world hunger.

You’ll note I specified the exact length of the broom handle. It’s only after having attempted the project that I’m able to relate the length of the handle. Most men on a project, especially those being watched by their wife, wouldn’t bother to measure a length any more than they would ask directions while driving across Borneo with half a tank of gas.

As it turns out, I should’ve measured both the distance the cable had to travel under the carpet and the length of the broom handle prior to taping the cable to the handle and shoving a 4’11” broom handle under a five-foot expanse of wall-to-wall carpet. The fact the carpeting was wall-to-wall is key to understanding what lay ahead. Let’s make certain the situation is spelled out clearly; the new carpet in our new home had a hole in it, a broom handle was now nicely buried under the carpet, and my wife was perched on top of the bed like one of Macbeth’s three witches waiting to see what I would do next.

Walking to the wall and grasping the carpet as best I could, I pulled up a good 10 feet of it from the tacking, acting all the while like I would have to have done that even had the handle not been one inch too short. Leaning with my one arm on the newly exposed carpet tacks, I solicited help in excising the handle from beneath the rug. That accomplished, and dying the death of a thousand cuts, I looked for another proper tool to complete the task. Walking through the kitchen to the garage I spent a moment wondering if the proper tool could be found in the kitchen. Naturally, it was—one half of a pair of chopsticks or, as it’s now referred to in technical terms, a broom handle extender.

Five minutes later, the broom handle extender and cable was firmly duct taped to the broom handle and once again shoved under the carpet. They both went in, but no cable came out the other side. So, I pulled the handle back out and surveyed the situation. The situation, as it turns out, was that in my hand was a perfectly good broom handle, a piece of coaxial cable, and no broom handle extender. The extender was now smack dab in the middle of the 5 foot expanse I was trying to cross, the problem being it was on the wrong side of the carpet, the underneath side. It was positioned perfectly. It was too far under to be reached from either end. In other words, the chop stick just became a permanent fixture in our bedroom.

Certainly, one small chopstick hidden beneath four hundred square feet of carpeting was not a big problem to me. It was not a problem unless you happen to be walking barefoot across the carpet and you happen not to be the one who put it there.  It became not unlike the fable The Princes and the Pea, and my princes found it immediately. In the fable, it was the princes could not sleep. In my case, I knew the non-sleeper in the story would be me for as long as the chopstick remained under the carpet.  Keeping my eyes focused firmly on the task at hand, I foolishly believed if I could resolve the cable problem, the matter of the chopstick would resolve itself.

One final trip to the garage led me to return with a second broom handle. The peanut gallery looked on in disbelief in my ability to finish what I had started without having to sell the house at a loss before I was through. The “I told you so’s” were being thought through in most of the major dialects of the Western Hemisphere.

This had ceased to be a project—it was now a quest, no lesser than that of the Holy Grail. A mile of duct tape later, both broom handles were firmly attached to one another. Even if I destroyed every square foot of carpeting in the house, I would not lose this broom handle under the carpet.  A minute later the cable emerged exactly where it should have, on the other side of the room.  I pulled the out broom handle, attached the cable and turned on the television. Everything worked, just as I had known it would.

Standing in front of the television, admiring my work in the new room arrangement, I noticed I was now a good foot taller than when I began the project. Was this an illusion brought about by my success?  As was quickly pointed out by my princess, the stature was more attributable to the fact that all of the carpet padding that used to lie between the end of the bed and the wall was now nicely compacted into a ball.  The ball of padding was located in the same twilight zone the chopstick found, right in the middle of the walkway. Trying to correct the problem only made it worse. Each time I prodded the ball of padding with the broom handle it grew larger underfoot. Within minutes it looked as though I had managed to suck up every inch of padding from every room in the house and placed it between my wife and a good night’s sleep. Resorting to logic once again, I quickly pointed out that she should walk on it because she would no longer be bothered by feeling the chopstick underfoot.

The next day I was on the phone scheduling an appointment with the carpet installation service. The carpet installer had to pull up most of the carpeting in the bedroom to be able to reach what she had affectionately labeled Chopstick Hill. I watched him work and I learned all about carpet padding and the installation of hardwood floors. He explained it was lucky for me that he came over because our padding was not good quality padding and we would not have known that had he not pulled up the carpet. I asked him why, if we would not have known about the padding, we would want to spend $300 for new padding. Without responding, he just kept slamming his knee in the carpet installer, charging one hundred dollars for his efforts and my education.

I was so impressed with his discussion of hardwood floors I almost bought one on the spot to surprise my wife. By now, we both know she wouldn’t have appreciated the surprise. Anybody who did not want to spend forty dollars on the cable repairman would probably have a little more trouble accepting five thousand dollars for a new floor.

However, I walked around with a silent smirk on my face for days knowing had we done it my way from the start, call the cable man, we could’ve saved the hundred dollars and never put a hole in the carpet.

This is what can happen when your patients decide to bypass your customer service because of prior bad experiences they have had trying to solve a problem.  It usually comes down to process, bad process.  Processes are a lot easier to fix than disappointed patients.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

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Patient Relationship Management, add 3 parts technology and stir

Sometimes you need to break a few eggs to get to the root of the problem. Traditional approaches to improving the patient experience usually begin with the call center. Why is that? Maybe it has something do with the fact that a call center is tangible. Something you can observe and touch. Clearly, it’s something that can be measured. However, I think the real reason is that the number of call centers in any organization is finite. You know your number of call centers. It’s not about five, or as of yesterday morning we had three, it’s a specific number. As such, it’s a reasonable target. It’s a target that can typically be dealt with through the application of technology. There’s a handful of technology, which when applied to any call center in any location will, when measured against the typical metrics, enable the call center to be “better”. If someone’s marching orders are to fix the call center, those orders fit neatly with the application of technology.

Doing something to the call center is a shotgun approach to trying to solve a problem. It’s a recipe that is very repeatable; add three parts technology and stir. It’s almost guaranteed to produce measurable and visible results. It’s also almost guaranteed to not fix a single patient problem. The reason for that is that almost all of the technology deployed in call centers has nothing to do with addressing the reason the patient called. The application of technology for the most part has to do with getting the caller to the CSR more promptly.

The big distinction in dealing with patients versus dealing with call centers is that patient problems usually can’t be resolved via the application of a shotgun solution. Clearly, if every patient that calls about a billing problem is calling about the same billing problem then the application of technology could fix it. However, patients who are calling about billing problems are usually calling regarding a problem that is specific to them. There are two ways to address this type of problem. One way is to get a clear enough understanding of problem on the call and have the patient work with the CSR to resolve the problem. That type of solution puts out the fire. The problem with this type of solution is that it has to be repeated with the CSR every time that same problem arises. The other way, and by far a more proactive way, is to figure out what caused the billing problem and to correct whatever caused the problem thereby preventing it from ever happening again. Instead of putting out the fire, the hospital prevents the fire from reoccurring.

From my perspective this is one of the major differences between Patient Relationship Management (PRM) and Patient Equity Management (PEM). I’m not convinced that PRM actually exists, at least as relates to the acronym. I think it’s either call center management or patient account management, or some combination of the two. If it does in fact somehow manage the relationship of the hospital with the patient, it’s predominantly a one-way relationship, a push relationship from the hospital to the patient. PEM, patient experience management, patient expectation management, patient equity management, requires a two-way relationship, and requires knowing more about the patient than some profile developed through data mining. For PEM to be successful, the hospital must get to the root of why the patients are calling and what can be done to solve the problem in such a manner that the patient no longer has to call. It sounds like a lot of work. It is if you take a shotgun approach to it, sort of like trying to eat the elephant in one bite. I’ve found that if I break it down into manageable pieces, each of those pieces can be designed as a small project that can be solved.

The most difficult thing about trying to implement this type of solution is that it goes against everything that we’ve been doing. This can appear to be so far out of the box that you can’t even see the box. It requires you to think in opposites. The solution begins with how you phrase the problem. Instead of viewing the problem as, “How do we improve our call centers”, we need to be asking, “How do we improve our interactions with our patients?” We’re almost asking the inverse. In mathematics, that’s easy to do; you simply multiply by -1.  Maybe that’s all that’s needed here.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

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You Can’t Fix Stupid

I spent a summer in Weaverville, North Carolina, just outside of Asheville. (I couldn’t find it on the map either.) That summer, I was the head wrangler at Windy Gap, a summer camp for high school kids. I’m not sure I’d ever seen a horse, much less ridden one, so I guess that’s why they put me in charge. I thought that maybe if I dressed the part that would help. I bought a hat and borrowed a pair of cowboy boots from a friend; the boots were a half size too small, and I spent the better part of the first night stuffing sticks of butter down them trying to get them off my swollen feet.

The ranch’s full-time hand taught us how saddle the horses and little bit about how to ride. In the mornings we had to collect the horses from the fields, bring them into the corral, and saddle them. The other wranglers would ride out to the field to bring in the horses, while I being the least experience of the wranglers would race after them in my running shoes trying to coax them back to the barn. We would take the children for a breakfast ride along a mountain path where we would let them rest and cook them a breakfast of sausage and scrambled eggs.

One morning a group of fifteen high school girls was sitting on the fence of the corral.  I walked up behind them carrying two saddle bags filled with the breakfast fare. I slung the saddlebags over the top rail of the fence, and hoping to make a good impression I placed one hand on the rail and vaulted myself over. I landed flat on my back smack dab in the middle of the pile of what horses produce when they’re done eating—so much for the good impression.

I brushed myself off and saddled my horse. The moment I gripped the reins the horse reared on two legs, made a dash for the fence and jumped it in one motion. I could tell the high school girls were impressed as I flew by them. Both of my arms were wrapped around the horse’s neck, and I had my hands locked in a death grip. I yelled, “whoa” and stop”, only to learn that the horse didn’t speak English. The horse raced the two hundred yards to the dining hall, stopped on a dime, and raced back to the corral, as the girls continued to cheer. One final leap, and I was back where I started; on the ground, in the corral, looking up at the girls. I took a bow and quickly remounted my steed. The full-time ranch hand came over and instructed me rather loudly, “You can’t let the horse do that. You have to show the horse that you’re in charge.” After that piece of wisdom he grabbed my horse by its bit, pulled its head down, and bit a hole in my horse’s ear. I’m not sure what kind of in an impression it made on my horse. I guarantee you it made an impression on me.

Horses aren’t very intelligent, but they know when you don’t know what you’re doing, when you’re bluffing—dressing like a cowboy didn’t even fool the girls, much less my horse—I guess he hadn’t seen many westerns. Here we go—you had to know where this was headed.

Patients are a lot like horses. (I just Googled that phrase and it appears you heard it here first.) You can’t fix stupid. Putting lipstick on a pig won’t make it any more attractive. Patients don’t like being ridden; don’t like being saddled with extraneous fees. One example—mobile phone providers offer many pricing options. They know their customers can’t predict how many minutes they will use. They penalize their customers for using too much time and they reap the benefits if they don’t use all of their time. Fifty percent of mobile phone providers’ income derives from those fees.

Customers know when a company doesn’t know what it’s doing—those companies who require their customers to sign a contract in order to prevent them from defecting. Do you have a gym membership? Their favorite customers buy long-term memberships but rarely visit the club. That allows health clubs to sell more memberships than they can accommodate, and they make it difficult for their customers cancel the contract. Long-term contracts almost guarantee poor service; after all, it’s not like the customer can up and leave.

Patients know when a company is bluffing. That’s why most people hate calling. Want to really get on someone’s nerves—make sure the recorded message mentions that the call may be recorded for purposes of quality. If it’s me on the phone, that’s when I know that I’m really going to have a difficult time getting the results I want. It appears that there is an inverse correlation between how much a firm states that it wants to help a patient and the amount of help the patient actually receives. Given a choice, sometimes I’d rather be the horse.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

My profiles: LinkedInWordPressTwitterMeetupBlog RSS
Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer