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.


saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy


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Patient Relationship Management & Patient Equity Management

Here’s a link to my deck on the above. I’d like to read your thoughts.


In accordance with the prophecy

Counting me, there were six of us; college spies. Maybe that is a grammatical error; we were spies who happened to be in college. Well, maybe that’s a half-truth. We were co-op students with rather high security clearances, working at a place in the DC area which made the type of things of which Nancy Pelosi would deny having any knowledge. I was a mathematics intern—not a bad step on the rungs of the career ladder given that the dean of my math department had tried on more than one occasion to get me to change majors. Everyone I worked with had at least a PhD in math. At least I had enough firing synapses to know I would never be their intellectual peer.

During the summers, we six would report at one of the complex’s gates, flash our badges at the marine guards, make our way past the military weapons testing facilities, and head to our basement offices. At lunch time we’d break out our briefcases, and take out our tools of the trade—Frisbees, bag lunch, sun tan oil (this was in the days before anyone could spell SPF, pure Hawaiian Tropic.) Within minutes we’d be stripped down to our cutoffs, running across the field where the helicopters landed, and dripping with sweat. After lunch we’d help draft differential equations whose aim was to read target signatures sent from one of our missiles at a Soviet or Chinese aircraft. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

That was then. Now we are aging adolescents clinging woefully to rapidly fading images of summers past, whose idea of getting wasted is drinking multiple espressos. Gone are the days where we could abnegate responsibility. We matured, at least a lot of us. We’ve learned pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing. We’ve accepted it to the extent that we act like we know what we’re doing even if we don’t and, we do it.

Pretending is a skill. Guys do it all the time, secretly hoping no one will notice. People who answer your hospital phones do it too. Sometimes patients will settle for an answer; any answer. It’s sort of like bluffing in Trivial Pursuit—if you bluff with enough confidence, your opponent may not even check your answer. For some patient questions, there are three states of being; not knowing, action and completion. The goal is to move as rapidly as possible from the first state to the third. If the patient proves to be a problem, the patient care rep should finish each sentence with the phrase, “In accordance with the prophecy.”

Of course, if face-to-face interaction proves to be too much, you can always tighten up the dialog. For example;



Welcome to the Patient Care Hotline.

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.

If you are codependent, please ask someone to press 2.

If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5 and 6.

If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want.

If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully to the little voice until it tells you which number to press.

If you are manic-depressive, it doesn’t matter which number you press. No one will answer.

If you are delusional and hallucinate, please be aware that the thing you are holding on the side of your head is alive and about to bite off your ear.

Thanks for calling.

PRM Roadkill

(AP) New York. CNN reported that PRM 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.

A fellow, David Phillips, wrote, “Relationships should be considered part of the intrinsic value of the corporation”—he is an auditor. I read a paper co-authored by a slew 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? 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. I’d wager my son’s allowance that nobody uses 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 patients impact them individually, one at a time.

Technology metrics apply to patients—plural. Technology metrics are averages—patients aren’t.  You are measuring against the masses.  The mass does not churn, does not leave your hospital, does not ask to speak to a supervisor.  If I am the patient, not a single metric, not a single measure in your hospital accurately depicts the success or failure of our interaction.

So, what’s a mother to do? Stop pretending you are managing your business by managing relationships—since it’s not possible to do the latter, it follows logically that you can’t possibly be doing the former.

Here’s what you can do, manage your hospital using things you can measure. You 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?

Show these to the VP of Operations and all of a sudden you have something to talk about. Show the VP how much you reduced some global metric—so what?

The doctors’ thoughts on social media are probably correct

Some more thoughts on the post on KevinMD’s site stemming from Dr. Gwenn’s blog.

Justifiable on-line road rage.  I run a consulting firm.  You know what?  I hate it—running the firm, that is.  The consulting is great fun.  I am guessing that being a physician is a lot like that.  Very few of you became doctors to run a business, let alone one that is front and center on the evening news, Twitter, and every other blog on the planet.  Add to that a government who is changing the business model without any thought to how it impacts your business.  They want a nationalized healthcare system whereby each patient can be accessed by any doctor—that has nothing to do with your effort to treat actual people.

Interesting discussion, and the comments are spot on, especially the, “Where’s the beef” comments.  It is silly to expect that overlaying a few technologies makes things better.  This reminds me a little of Dorothy running around in ruby slippers, and the magic answer was clicking her heels three times.  Unless K-mart had a big sale on ruby slippers, there is no quick win technology for doctors lining the shelves of Office Max.

To rub salt in the wound, the government is forcing more technology on physicians, namely EHR.  If the technology was as great as the prognosticators write, doctors would be scrambling to be first in line.  Has that happened?  Of course not.  Instead, the government is taking a Tony Soprano approach, offering rebates for doctors who take a course they don’t want to take, alternatively, burying bodies off the New Jersey Turnpike.

So, some tactical thoughts starting with EHR.  Don’t do anything yet.  You have at least a year.  Yeah, you won’t get the ARRA money—that’s according to what’s written.  Guess what?  Nobody else will get it either.  The ONC will have to change either the timing of Meaningful Use, or the rules, or both.  I think they will push it back.  Twelve to eighteen months from now, someone will offer a robust, shrink-wrapped solution that makes sense.  If you’re interested, here’s a link to an audio interview I did for doctors about an EHR strategy—it’s just ideas, I’m not pushing anything.  Go to EMRFIX.com and search for the link.

Other practical thoughts.  There are a few hundred thousand doctors, none of whose Hippocratic Oath said anything about healthcare 2.0, or offered any training on how to get there, or whether you should even try to get there.  Most of my physician friends set up their business model on a whim and a prayer, like all entrepreneurs do—like I did.  There are probably as many business models for doctors as there are doctors.  The good news is that some have done better figuring out the business side of healthcare than others.  It’s not an ego thing.  It’s not about being intellectually gifted and not being smart enough to figure out something as simple as running a business.  Why?  Smart has nothing to do with it.  There are things to be learned from the efforts of others, and there are ways that some of the technologies can help.

Those things?  Blocking and tackling.  Business processes.  Social media.  Eliminate the rework.  Eliminate whatever tasks that don’t add value to your business.  Are there activities you can outsource?  Payroll?  Can you have someone design a website that will answer questions for your patients so they don’t have to call you?  Can you collaborate with other doctors?

Just some ideas.  You are justified in your angst.

The parabolic parable

The bad thing about being a former mathematician in my case is that the emphasis is on the word former. Sometimes I’m convinced I’ve forgotten more than I ever learned.—sort of like the concept of negative numbers. It’s funny how the mind works, or in my case goes on little vacations without telling me. This whole parabola thing came to me while I was running, and over the next few miles of my run I tried to reconstruct the formula for a parabola. No luck.

My mind shut that down and went off on something that at least sounded somewhat similar, parables. That got me to thinking, and all of a sudden I was focused on the parable of the lost sheep, the one where a sheep wanders off and the shepherd leaves his flock to go find the lost one, which brings us to where we are today.

Sheep and effort.  Let’s rewind for a second. Permit me to put the patient lifecycle into physics for librarian style language—get the patient, keep the patient, lose the patient.  These are the three basic boxes where providers focus resources. How well do we do in managing that lifecycle to our advantage? We have marketing and sales to get the patient, we have patients care to keep the patient.  Can anyone tell me the name of the group whose job it is to lose the patient?  Sorry, I should have said to not lose the patient. Freudian—actually, we probably have our pet names for the department who we fault for patients leaving.

Where do most providers spend the majority of their intellectual capital and investment dollars? Hint—watch their commercials. It’s to get the patient. Out comes the red carpet. They get escorted in with the white glove treatment. Once they’re in, the gloves come off, to everyone’s detriment. Nobody ever sees the red carpet again. A high percentage of a firm’s budget is to get the patients, and another large chuck for existing patients. Almost nothing is spent to retain exiting patients.

Existing versus exiting. Winning providers roll out the red carpet when patients exit. They do this for two reasons. One, it may cause a patient to return. Two, it changes the conversation. Which conversation? The one your ex-patient is about to have with the rest of the world. How does your firm want that conversation to go?

What’s the ROI from Social Media for a hospital?

Did you know there’s a hospital in the US whose web site gets 2,000,000 hits a month?

Did you know that same hospital tracks how patients made the decision to use their services?

Did you know that more than $2,400,000 dollars in fees came about as a direct result of the web site?

I’d bet the ROI on that exceeds everything else in the hospital.

Have you lost the social media turf war to your patients?

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 patients 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 the seventies, what are you able to recall about high school? If you’re like me, much of it’s 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.

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 gambolled care freely down the crowded halls during those four years believing that the school year book should only contain your picture, graduating high school gave you your out, gave you permission to euphemistically bury the bourgeoisie 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 fabebook-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 customers don’t hate them. Poltergeists. The undead. The kind of customers you’d hope you’d never hear from. And yet, those are the very ones who bother to write about their experience. They Twitter, and blog, and YouTube your organization. Don’t take my word for it.  Run a search and see what you find.  More is being said about you than you are saying about yourself.  That means you are losing the social media turf war, you don’t control the high ground or the conversation.

Patients come back and haunt deliberately. Their haunts are reflected in lower satidfaction, fewer repeat visits, and higher churn. Isn’t technology great?

can you apply social media to Patient Relationship Management (PRM)

A consultant was on one side of the river; his client was on the other side. The client hollered, “How do I get to the other side?”  The consultant thought for a moment and hollered back, “You are on the other side.”—don’t try this at home kids, we’re professionals.

It goes without saying that rarely am I regarded as one with a high capacity of tolerance.   When things get tough or when meetings are exceedingly dull I like to go to my happy place. Sometimes I get to go to my happy place when I least expect it. Like the time my coffee machine started leaking all over the floor.

Having met such unheralded success repairing my mixer, naturally I took apart my Capresso coffee maker. Not many parts. I put it back together thinking the simple act of dismembering it might have caused it to self-heal. Fill it. Turn it on. Puddle. I called Capresso started to explain my problem. Before I had a chance to finish the rep told me what caused the problem, asked for my address, and said they would mail a new gasket overnight for free, as in F-R-E-E. No proof of purchase needed.

Talk about managing the customer experience and taking the lead on social networking.  What types of things could you be doing to improve Patient Relationship Management (PRM)?  How could social networking help you improve PRM?

Let’s talk.

what’s your HIT group doing for you?


I love to cook and I belong to several internet food related sites. As an aside, one of my favorites is www.chowhound.com. Maybe it’s my personality, or lack of one, but I’m not a fan of recipes, at least not the details like measuring, ingredients, cook time, and temperature. I think that this is where the fact that I function with equal vigor from both hemispheres of my brain causes conflict—probably also explains why I had such a difficult time completing my math degree. If I don’t like the details, what else is there, you may ask? It’s more than the pictures, if that was all there was I’d be satisfied just cutting pictures out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I like the ideas those sites generate, but I also can’t stand to be encumbered by some silly set of rules. I guess I figure that with a set of rules anyone can be successful making that particular recipe, so where’s the challenge in that.

So anyway, I decided to smoke a nice sized duck on my grill. I rinsed the bird, trussed it, pricked the skin with a fork, stuffed it with a few blood oranges, and applied my homemade rub to the skin. The apple-wood chips were smoking nicely as I placed the bird, breast-side up on the roasting rack I had placed inside the cast-iron skillet. After turning down the burners I closed the lid. The grill, I should point out, is a seven-burner, infrared, stainless steel monstrosity with which one could probably roast an entire pig or forge iron ore into ingots. Total roasting time, about two hours. I checked the thermometer on the grill’s hood; it displayed a temperature of three hundred and fifty degrees–perfect, more or less.

It turns out that it can take as long as five minutes for the grill’s thermometer to register the correct temperature. The temperature dial on this particular model redlines at seven hundred degrees, high enough to produce spontaneous combustion. After two hours at 700 degrees, interesting things begin to happen to the carcass of a duck. Upon raising the lid the entire bird looked as though it had been spray painted a matte black. The roasting rack had melted. The leg bones appeared to have been charred from the inside out—they disintegrated the moment I touched them. I felt like a helpless doctor in the ER, there was nothing I could do to save it.

Have you ever felt that way when you try to understand how any of the healthcare IT projects are progressing? How’s EHR?  What’s the impact of reform on EHR?  Why aren’t we doing more with social media?  How come we don’t have a patient relationship management (PRM) system?  According to the reports that come across your desk, everything seems to be humming along nicely. In the committee meetings, seats are filled.  The emails imply all is fine.  Looking fine and being fine are not the same.  Looks can be deceiving. Ask the duck.

By the way, the duck fat did a great job of seasoning the iron skillet, so if that ever happens to you simply explain that what you were really doing was seasoning the pan.