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

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.

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 expectationbar 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.

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

Does your hospital have ID–Innovation Deficiency?

When certain things reach their expiration date, no second-guessing is required. Shelf life has transformed into half-life. Milk is a good example, one that involves several of the senses. For starters, the dairy industry offers a great hint by printing the date right on the label. Smell is another indicator, unfortunately we don’t always trust that first whiff, and we take a sip thinking that it can’t be all that bad. Fortunately, our taste buds never let us down. If the milk has turned, there is a visceral, almost violent desire to spew it forth and then shave your tongue. Finally, if the consistency is such that it can be eaten with a fork, toss that puppy. Bananas turn black. Cheeses and breads sprout beards, speckled with tinctures of blues and greens. Tomatoes leak, oranges deflate, grapes wrinkle, and juice ferments.

On the other hand it’s more difficult to know when non-perishables have outlived their usefulness. Light bulbs burn out, batteries die, and DVDs freeze. The same thing happens in business; technology gets outdated, service providers lose their appeal, patients have other choices, and business processes no longer apply to today’s markets. The difference is that it’s much easier to see when a light bulb burns out than it is to recognize when 10 year-old business processes aren’t cutting it.

Sometimes ideas just wear out, and new ideas aren’t forthcoming. This happens a lot, especially as relates to customers—for purposes of this discussion we use customers to mean patients and physicians. There’s a scientific name for this phenomenon; Innovation Customer Experience Deficiency, ICED. How can you tell if your hospital’s been ICED? It’s fairly simple. If you can pinpoint the year when you last changed how you approached your customers you’ve been ICED. Customer experience management (CEM) should be occurring continually. If it is occurring continually under a design that hasn’t been updated continually something is out of sync. Do you use the same CEM systems you used 5 or 10 years ago? Have you added new processes or services during that period? If so, you’ve been ICED.

It’s sad to watch. Good hospitals wither away to upstart competitors simply because they have no new ideas about how to handle their customers. Reducing average handle time is not an innovation. Decreasing the rate of call abandonment, should not be considered a new idea. Many hospitals have lost the ability to color outside the lines—some never had the ability. It’s shameful. CEOs and other executives can be seen sneaking in to work early so they aren’t seen by their employees—their briefcases are filled with old ideas, some on a floppy disk they picked up at some useless symposium a decade ago. Their customers are making fun of them on YouTube. Even their dog is embarrassed and is thinking of moving in with some other executive, one who isn’t afraid to think.

The symptoms are classic. Unfortunately, if left unchecked, the deficiency can spread throughout the organization. Soon, billing doesn’t care if it has all the required line items. Marketing figures, why care, since our stuff isn’t innovative anyway. The front doors stay locked, because the employees don’t want the customers coming in and teasing them.

Our clients ask us, what can we do? “We’re still working on the same problems I was faced with when I was a CSR,” replied Stan Watson, Healthy Pro’s, vice president of customer care. “We’ve just added another T-1 line,” stated Stan’s boss Nancy Peppermill. “We do that about every six months or so and finally everything starts settling down.”

This is why we created the Baltimore Exposition for the Innovation Customer Experience Deficiency, BE ICED. BE ICED is a two-day exposition. It’s being held the third Monday in October, and it ends the previous Friday, that way, you still have your weekend available. How do you know if this exposition is for you? If you are still trying to fix yesterday’s problem, or you can’t color outside the lines, or find that all of your peers are thinking outside the box while you’re still trapped inside, then you should consider joining us.

BE ICED will teach you to be bold. Day one of the exposition begins with a seminar to introduce the executive to the customer. This can be very intimidating, but we will be with you every step of the way. We will walk through mock scenarios that practice the difficult skills that we feel cause ID, innovation deficiency. Once we work on those skills, we will go live. Each executive who has customer responsibilities will be driven blindfolded to an actual hospital or clinic, whereupon they will meet live customers. Executives will receive points for correctly being able to identify a customer and for interacting with the customer. Bonus points will be awarded if the executive is able to ascertain the customer’s needs and provide the right assistance. Day two will be filled with techniques to teach the executive how to cope with and hopefully eliminate ID. Yes, ID is embarrassing, but we’re here to help.

Listen to the following testimonial. Randy Johnson is the senior vice president of CEM for the medical devices conglomerate, Panache Bed Pans. Here’s what he said after completing two-day session. “We thought we knew all there was to know about how to take care of our customers. And then I realized I had ID. Panache Bed Pans was ICED. Customers would call more than once, expecting us to have answers to their questions. Why did they think we knew anything about bed pans, other than how to make them? We began to get discouraged. We would come in late, leave early, and hide under desks, so we wouldn’t have to answer the phone. Then I heard about ID. I must admit at first I was skeptical. But they placed me in a group with other people who are just as inept as I was when it came to taking care of customers, and that made me feel comfortable. After two days, that feeling that comes with having ID began to go away. Now I know how to be innovative, and I’m starting to cope with just feeling deficient.”

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

Patient Relationship Management (PRM)

Have I mentioned I am an unapologetically type A person, for the most part an off the chart Meyers Briggs INTJ? This morning I awoke feeling no more querulous than usual—that would change rather abruptly. In general, I make it a rule never to learn anything before having my first cup of coffee. Unfortunately, today wasn’t going to be one of those days. In fact, my mood was a direct result of the instrument pictured above.

These days I am using that to make my coffee as my normal espresso maker’s LED screen is displaying a message telling me my grinder is blocked—sounds a little like something two tablespoons of Pepto should be able to fix, doesn’t it? Google was not help—three hits, each instructing me to send it back to the dealer for a $350 repair. Sounds more like a response you’d get regarding a car, not a coffee maker.

I brought this pot home from my work in Madrid. It works using the same principles as a pressure cooker. Water is placed in the bottom; an espresso grind goes above the water.Steam is forced through the grind, past a metal sieve, and into the container where as it cools it is reconstituted as a liquid—coffee. Anyway, as my coffee is cooking, I notice the metal sieve sitting on the counter. It seemed like too much work to turn it off, rinse the pot, regrind the coffee, and wait the additional five minutes. I was too tired for a do-over.

Too bad for me. Now, I’m not sure if what happened next would be found under the topic of fluid mechanics, converting steam into thermal energy, or general explosives, but it would have made for an entertaining physics experiment. In what appeared to play out in slow motion like the Challenger explosion actually occurred in a fraction of a second. It seems that metal sieve does more than strain the grinds from the steam. It also prevents a thermonuclear reaction. Apparently when the pressure passes the fail-safe point, the reaction proceeds to the next logical step. That step, which I observed, involves coffee and grinds exiting the pot so rapidly that before I could blink they covered the walls, counters, and floors as far away as ten feet. (It was actually pretty impressive to watch.) I’ve been informed that once I finish writing I will be attending to the mess.

The scene reminded me of one of the forensic shows on cable. I halfway expected the medical examiner Henry Lee to walk through my door to examine the splatter pattern.

The choice I faced was to do it over, or deal with the consequences. I was in a hurry, consequences be damned—it turns out that it wasn’t the consequences that would be damned. My guess is that I’m looking at at least thirty minutes of cleanup work.

It pays to invest the time to do something right the first time. Sort of like dealing with patients. Let’s say a certain patient call takes nine minutes to handle correctly. As many of you have observed, there are two ways to go about this. You can do it over a period of several four minute calls because your people don’t want to get dinged for exceeding their handle time allotment, or you can allow the people to talk until the patient’s need is solved.

As patients, we know you prefer the first approach. The mere fact that patients have to listen to a recording telling us how important our call is makes us leery. I think everyone who is monitoring calls and call metrics needs to come over to my house for a cup of coffee and let the people do their jobs.

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

Patient Relationship Management (PRM)-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.

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

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

Abnormal


I remember the first time I entered their home I was taken aback by the clutter. Spent and 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 windows.”

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.”

“Why don’t you shut your windows? It seems like that would solve a lot of your problems.”

She looked 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 Relationship Management (PRM). 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.

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

If I ask about it they always have an 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 PRM manager (I know you don’t have one—I am being facetious) to be fooled by their 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.

Patient Relationship Management (PRM): 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 Relationship Management (PRM) 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, PRM 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, PRM.

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.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 85-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

My profiles: LinkedInWordPressTwitterMeetupBlog RSS

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 Relationship Management (PRM) 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 PRM 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 PRM.

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

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

My profiles: LinkedInWordPressTwitterMeetupBlog RSS