“How many days ago was Sunday?”

The photo comes from my Robert Redford look alike period.

Do you ever awaken wishing you were all you used to think you were before you figured out you weren’t?  Me either.  I’m someone who has these kind of days when it’s best to keep me away from shiny objects.

During college, I spent several summers volunteering for a group called Young Life at their camps throughout the US.  Silver Cliff was one of their camps in the mountains of Colorado.  Each week we’d take in a few hundred high school kids from throughout the US, and give them the opportunity to do things and challenge themselves in new ways; everything from riding horses to rappelling.

The prior summer I was the head wrangler at one of their camps—I had never ridden a horse prior to being placed in charge of the riding program.  This summer is was the person running the rappelling program.  Needless to say, I had never done that before either.

We received a day’s worth of instruction before we were turned loose on the kids.  One of the first things we had to learn was that the ropes and harness, if properly secured to the carabineers and figure eight, would actually keep you from falling to your death.  The first test was jumping from a platform way up in a tree while on belay.  After a few moments of white-knuckle panic, I stepped over the edge and was belayed safely to the ground.

From there, we scouted a place for the rappel, and found two suitable cliffs, each with about a hundred foot vertical drop.  Watching my first rappel must have reminded others of what it would have been like watching a chimp learn how to use tools for the first time.  After several tentative descents, I was able to make it safely to the bottom in a single jump.

Each day we’d run a few dozen kids through the course, ninety-nine percent of whom had never rappelled, or ever wanted to rappel.  To convince them that it was safe and that they could complete it, I would instruct them in the technique as I hung backwards over the chalk face of the limestone cliff.

Each day we’d have one or two kids who wanted nothing to do with my little course.  Occasionally, while on belay, one of them would freeze half way down the cliff, and I’d have to belay down and rescue them.

Once or twice I’d have an attractive female counselor on belay, her knowing that I was the only thing keeping her from being a Rorschach stain on the rocks below.  Scared, and looking for a boost of confidence, “She’d ask, how long have you been doing this?” I’d look at my watch and ask her how many days ago was Sunday.  I viewed it as an opportunity to have a little fun with her—sort of like turning to your friend in the checkout line in 7-eleven and saying loud enough for others to hear, “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to use our guns.” I also hoped maybe even having to go on a heroic rescue.

How long have you been doing this?  That’s seems like a fair question to ask of anyone in a clinical situation.  It’s more easily answered when you are in someone’s office and are facing multiple framed and matted attestations of their skills.  Seen any good EHR or HIT certificates on the walls of the people entrusted with the execution of the EHR endowment?  Me either.  I have a cardiologist and he has all sorts of paper hanging from his wall.  Helps to convince me he knows his stuff.  Now, if I were to pretend to be a cardiologist—I’ve been thinking of going to night school—I’d expect people would expect to see my bona fides.

Shouldn’t the same logic apply to spending millions of EHR dollars?  Imagine this discussion.

“What do you do?”

“I’m buying something for the hospital I’ve never bought.”

“Why?”

“The feds say we’ve got to have it.”

“Oh.  What’s it do?”

“Nobody really knows.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“How many days ago was Sunday?”

“What’s it cost?”

“Somewhere between this much,” he stretches out his arms, “And this much,” stretching them further.

“Do the doctors want this?”

“Some do.  A lot don’t.”

“How will you know when you’re done if you got it right?”

“Beats me.”

“Sounds like fun,” she said, trying to fetter a laugh.

Sounds like fun to me too.

saintPaul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

Do you need to fire Ferguson?

It may be time to fire Ferguson.

I was listening to Imus the other day as he was interviewing the famous promoter, Jerry Weintraub.  The promoter relayed a story about one of his clients, John Denver.  Mr. Denver was constantly complaining about a number of things on one of his European tours, and he demanded the promoter come speak with him.  Here’s a replay of the conversation.

“Yes. Well, he was in Europe, and he was on tour. And everything was wrong. He hated everything. He hated the venues. He hated – the airplanes were no good. The sound systems were no good. Everything was no good. And he said to me, you know, I’m going to fire you; everything is wrong here. I said, yeah, I know, I know.

I sat down with him; I said, John, everything is going to be fine. He said, why? Why? I said, because I fired Ferguson. He said, why did you fire Ferguson? Why? What does firing him – going to do? I said, he’s been responsible for all the things that you’re troubled by: the hotels, the sound system, the venues, da, da, da, da. And he said, it’s going to be OK now? I said, yes, I’m putting other people in. Great.

And that evening, Denver and I went out to have something to eat. At dinner, I said to him, John, you know, I feel really terrible about firing Ferguson. He said, why? I said, because it’s not like you and it’s not like me. And John Denver said to me, I agree with you; it’s not like us. What can we do to help the guy? It’s really not like me. I got to help him. I said, I’ll put him in another area in the company. He’ll be fine. We’ll take good care of him. He said, that’s great, I feel so much better. Of course, there never was a Ferguson.”

Sometimes you need to shake things up a bit.  Do you need to fire Ferguson?

saintPaul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

Have I erred on the side of stupidity?

Twice in the span of twelve hours, I received unsolicited and honest feedback from two individuals whose opinion I value, about my attempt to share with you my thoughts about a range of issues concerning the business of healthcare.  One came from my father; since he holds that role he is allowed to offer unsolicited advice any time he wants, and I am entitled to listen to his advice.  The other bit of advice came in response to an email I wrote.  He is one of you, and he wrote the following:

I agree with many of your points and disagree with a few of them, and regardless, it’s a compelling, buzz-worthy angle that gets a lot of re-tweets and what have you, but I think it’s worth considering how these positions are affecting your ability to land consulting gigs in HIT. People want to hire consultants that they think will help them succeed, that think positively and pragmatically, and that are problem solvers (as opposed to problem recognizers): “we can do this together…I’ve had success before and if you let me, I will help you succeed…” that kind of thing. Just my 2 cents. It’s a trade-off, I know. You want to be honest and forthcoming, so I see the dilemma.

This was like being hit by lightening twice in the same day, so I thought I should take time to consider their input.  The feedback led me to ask if there are others who share the same opinion.  Is it possible my ramblings are about as well received, as I would be if I were to walk the streets of Tehran wearing a Star-of-David t-shirt?  What portion of readers drag my postings to their email folder entitled, “Kill him Later”?

Some believe a more effective use of consultants would be to compost them and use the energy generated to power a weed-eater.

Please permit me a few lines to try to explain my thought process for writing in my particular style and tone.  Before I began expressing my opinions on healthcare, I began reading what I considered the best healthcare blogs and editorials.  The first thing I learned is that I had nothing to offer of value on the clinical side of healthcare, so I focused my efforts on discovering what business issues providers dealt with, and which ones might benefit from receiving professional help—a consultant’s twelve-step program for problem solving.

I did a lot of homework; in addition to reading, I interviewed more than a hundred healthcare executives.  What was my takeaway?  One CEO told me the most needed skill on the business side of healthcare was “adult supervision”.  I did not charge in with uncorroborated opinions.  I used LinkedIn discussion groups to pose hundreds of questions about possible problems, studied the responses, and used them as a basis to formulate ideas about what was broken and what needed to be done to fix it.

I should note many of the blogs I read shared two traits; they often stated the same facts available on other blogs, and they rarely seemed to question the efficacy of the impact many of the Healthcare IT initiatives would have on operating healthcare’s business model—ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die.

Not wanting to be superfluous, when I came to the fork in the road, I chose not to take a me-too position.  Instead, I threw metaphorical tomatoes and tried to get people interested in looking at the business model in a more disruptive manner.  Often, I did this by taking extreme positions on issues in the hope I might hit a hot button, and someone would think, “Perhaps we ought to talk to the tomato thrower and see if he can help us”.

My approach may prove to be less than brilliant.  What’s your take?

EHR 2 a-days

It’s hot and muggy; a hazy pall seems to levitate before me.  We call it Pennsylvania in summer.  Chest pain yesterday, nitro in gym bag.  Intervals today.  I hate running intervals as much now as I did in high school, but they’re better for the heart than just running distance.  Twenty-four 110’s.  Did I mention it was hot?

I am on the high school track.  The football team is/are—where are all the English majors when you need them—going through their drills.  Running and thinking.  That’s a good combination for me.  After two laps I’m glistening, after three I’m soaked through.  That’s when it hits me.

Practice.  Offensive and defensive drills.  Blocking and tackling.  Run the option.  Block the punt.  Come back tomorrow and do it again.  Do it until you get it right.  Do it until you can get it right in the game.  Pretty neat idea all this practicing.

Know where this is headed?  See, that wasn’t too difficult—remember, the desk is hard, the task is difficult. (My one takeaway from eighth grade English.)  Who doesn’t get to practice, doesn’t even have a coach?  Bingo, the EHR Project Management Executive.  It would be better if they did.  Imagine this conversation:

“Sorry Charlie, hit the showers.”

“Why Coach?”

“Your change management isn’t working for you today.  You’re leaving processes untouched.”

“It was the docs’ fault.  They just toy with me.  Treat me like a wonk and tell IT jokes behind my back.”

“Your game plan is coming apart.”

“But I didn’t get to practice, we didn’t even get to warm up.  I’ll do better next time.”

“Which next time is that Charlie?  With whose money?  These are The Bigs, Charlie.  Only grownups play here.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to send you back down to Single A.”

“Private practice.?”

“Sorry Charlie”—sounds like the tuna commercial.

You’ve got one shot at this, no warmups, no practices; there are no do-overs, and you are gambling millions.  DIRT-FIT  Do It Right The FIrst Time

saintPaul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

EHR: How do you know if vendors tell the truth?

At the beginning of my final year of graduate school, during a prior administration, the school sponsored a seminar on how to dress for interviews.

The take away from the seminar is the following:

  • If you are interviewing with a financial institution wear a pin-stripe suit, white shirt, and a power tie.
  • If interviewing with an advertising agency, go with wider lapels, slightly faired pants—ok, it was the eighties—and a tie with as much verve as you can muster.
  • Accounting firms.  A Khaki suit whose pants and sleeves are an inch or two short, a frayed button-down shirt, and a dull tie.  Roll them all into a ball; place them under your pillow, and go to sleep.

Things have changed since them.  Nowadays, I think most interviewers are content to see that the interviewee is dressed; at least that covers the tattoos.

Maybe a similar seminar ought to be available on how to select vendors.

Unfortunately, judging them by how they are dressed, there is now way to know if they are telling the truth.

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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Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer

EHR throws a curve ball

There are not many things which when they work, work to the exclusion of all others.  (Word tried to let me know I can’t use the same word twice in a row in the same sentence.  Word underestimates my abilities.)

I recently watched the movie *61.  The movie documents the 1961 Yankees as Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle both chased Babe Ruth’s longstanding record of 60 home runs in a single season.  Great movie if you happen to think baseball is a metaphor for America.

I wrote in a prior posting that I grew up in Baltimore, grew up with the O’s—that’s the Baltimore Orioles for those of you who regard synchronized swimming as a real sport.

So before I lose you, the let us get down to why I am writing and why you are reading.

Baseball is full of stats and facts.  That is why those of us who love the game do in fact love it.  Baseball knows how a right-handed batter from Dubuque with a three ball two strike count is likely to fare on Tuesdays at an away game at night with a full moon with a left-handed pitcher with a one run lead in the late innings with two men on base.  There are more stats on arcane matters like this than there are on how Hillary wore her hair and the color of her polyester pantsuit when she met with the Bosnians.

That in and of itself makes baseball relevant.  America will continue if Hillary never again meets with the Bosnians.  It will not continue without baseball—it is important to pronounce the word “base—-ball,” the way James Earl Jones spoke it in Field of Dreams.  (I am not familiar enough with the rules of grammar to know if the name of the movie should be italicized or in quotes, but I know you get the point; grammar be dammed.

Here’s something most of you may not know.  Before every game, in the bowels of the stadium, the umpires perform a decades old ritual.  When baseballs arrive from the factory, they arrive with the sheen on them that all newly manufactured products have—forgive me for ending in a preposition—a sheen that makes it difficult for the pitcher a gain proper purchase on the ball.

Baseball tested a number of solutions—tobacco juice, shoe polish, sauces, oils—to enable pitchers to grab the ball.  In the mid-1930’s a baseball player discovered a solution.  He found a mud in a tributary of a river in Palmyra New Jersey that did the trick, and he started marketing the mud to the American League.  Why the American League?  Because he hated the National League.

Since that time every baseball for every MLB (Major League Baseball) game has been rubbed down using this mud, rubbed down, a gross at a time, by and prior to the umps calling the game.  That is a lot of rubbing—you do the math.

What in the wide-wide-world-of-sports can this have anything to do with healthcare?  Thanks for asking.  It has to do with finding a solution, a singular solution.  EHR.  EHR is FUBAR—you figure it out.  There are as many hospitals who swear by the solution you selected as those who do not.  Your solution as to how to take the sheen from your EHR are being replaced by other hospitals who claim to have found a better solution.

Roemer’s Rule One—all complex problems have simple solutions.  Got milk?  Got EHR?  It is not about the specific EHR…it is about what you choose to do with it.  CIOs and CEOs do not often select the wrong EHR—they select an implementation strategy that would fail if all they were doing was implementing the latest version of Microsoft Office.

As complicated as Washington makes EHR appear, there are simple solutions.  It has almost nothing to do with the software; it has to do with what your organization does with the software.

What do you need?  You need the New Jersey mud, the mud that places all reasonable EHRs on the same playing field, the mud that solidifies that the results you will achieve depends not on the EHR you selected, but if what you decide to do with the rubbing compound—the mud.  Anyone can pick an EHR.  Few can figure out why the one they have chosen makes a difference.

Baseball fans know an obscure fact.  Prior to every major league game, every baseball in every stadium is rubbed down with mud, a mud unique to a single spot on New Jersey.  The baseballs are all the same, the mud is the same.  Yet, some teams win, and some lose.  What does this tell you?  It tells me it is not the ball, and it is not the mud.

The difference between the winners and the losers must be attributable to something else.  What else?  I guess it has something to do with what they do with the ball.

Kind ‘a like EHR.  I guess it depends on what you do with it once the ball is in your hands.  How is your EHR team doing?  A lot of teams are asking the ump for another ball, another $200 million dollar ball.  Think that will work?

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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Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer

EHR-Shift Happens

When my youngest daughter, who is also my oldest daughter was two, we had her straight-jacketed in her car seat as we headed off to run a few errands.  Cute as a button and immobile—just like the book says.  My wife had nicely fixed what was left of her hair—to our surprise, her four-year-old brother had given her a haircut the day before—with a pink beret.  As she had nothing else to do in the back seat, she toyed with the beret, eventually removing it.

After a few miles, checking on her via the rear-view mirror I noticed the beret was nowhere to be seen.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that would mean she had dropped it out of reach, or tossed it to one of her invisible friends in a one-way game of catch.  I asked her where the beret was—sorry for ending in a preposition, but I have a call with a client in a few minutes and do not have the time to ensure I am writing this with the proper King’s English.

Her reply was to simply point to her mouth and giggle.  I repeated the question and she repeated her response.  Being the Super Dad; my son’s term for me, I eased to the side of the road.  We checked the floor of the car, check her car seat, and under her blankets—no beret.  We replayed the question for the third time and received the same response.  We checked her mouth—no beret.  We were hesitant to believe the charade-like communications of a two-year-old.  Nobody in their right mind would swallow a beret.  Then we started to think about the situation.  Bright, shiny, colorful things probably all look like candy to a two-year-old.

We called my sister-in-law, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and an executive at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  She made it clear that we needed to head to the hospital, do not pass Go; do not collect two hundred dollars.

We drove to the ER.  They did their magic, and we were soon looking at her image of her tummy—that’s the most clinical term I know to describe the situation.  There was the beret—we could not tell if it was pink, but we were hopeful that this had to be the same one about which I am writing.

As it turns out, the problem did not lay with her ability to communicate, it lay with our inability to believe that someone without an MBA—feel free to substitute MD or PhD—could define the situation accurately.

I do not have time for a segue, so let us jump into this.  It is easy to ignore what others are saying when a bunch of acronyms a printed on a business card after the presentation of your name.  Been there, done that, too well educated for whatever opinion you may care to offer on the topic.

My docs, and goodness knows I have several of them, I trust with my life—and I have.  These same docs, I would not trust to manage the P&L of a lemonade stand.  This has nothing to do with their IQ, it has to do with their training.  They would not trust me to insert a chest-tube, even though I have watched several episodes of Life in the ER.

At some point, we need to take a hard look at who is best to do what for whom.  Acronyms, in and of themselves, do not qualify one to make business decisions, especially in a virulent environment like healthcare.  Reform, EHR, ONC, Meaningful Use, Certification.  Shift happens, and is happening.

Sometimes there is value in listening to the two-year-old.

saintPaul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

Tidbits

I rarely write on Sunday, but with my wife and the kids in Miami for the month while I serve as the EHR Czar, I thought I would share a few thoughts with you.

I went to a reception a few nights ago with some healthcare executives in the Philly area.  It was one of those events whereby the caterer thought the chi-chi crowd would do back-flips over canapés of fava beans stuffed with cheese made from the breast milk of yaks.  One of those events where you can’t complain without being as obvious as someone walking the streets of Tehran wearing a Star of David T-shirt.

Sometimes  you get an ah-ha about life which is so profound it must be shared with friends.  I got one of those today while making a breakfast of smoked salmon, capers, and New York bagels.  I retrieved a clean plate from the dishwasher.  I knew when I finished breakfast I would have to empty the dishwasher–a task that always irks me.  The lights brightened, the sky opened, and I learned something most consultants would try to kiss their elbows to understand.

We have two dishwashers–machines, not people.  Naturally, that cuts down on the number of times we have to empty the dishwasher.  Mind you, my discovery only works for people whose spouse is out T town and for homes who have two dishwashers.  Here’s the deal.  Wash the dishes in one dishwasher.  Sooner or later you get hungry.  You think about going to the cabinet to grab a plate and the it occurs to you that you already have a clean plate in the dishwasher; along with a drinking glass, and utensils.  Why not use them?  And after dining–and this is the revelation–place the newly soiled dishes in the other dishwasher.  Guys, this re-engineering of the traditional kitchen processes eliminates the need to ever empty the dishwasher.  Everything in the dishwasher is caught in an infinite loop, eliminating the need for kitchen cabinets.

This new process brought to mind an episode of ‘Happy Days’ when The Fonz explains to Ritchie how bachelors make a salad to conserve wasting time on extraneous business processes.  The Fonz told Ritchie to hold the head of lettuce above the sink and pour salad dressing on the lettuce, thereby eliminating the need for a plate.

Where were we?  That is unplanned an alliteration.  Given that, how do I make this worth your time?

Permit me to address the C-suite.  Does it seem to you that those people in your firm are paid for working hard, or for delivering results?  I think they are paid for working hard, for looking like they are working hard, for doing the things people in their esteemed position ought to be doing.

They are busy.  Why?  Because those who are not perceived as being busy are fired.

Who at your firm is delivering results?  Who is defining what the results needs to be?

Someone needs to define the ah-ha moments for your organization.  Somebody needs to take charge, to know that it is possible not to unload the dishwasher, to know that there is no value in stuffing the fava beans with the cheese.

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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Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer

Where workflow goes to die

There are two types of business processes; easily repeatable processes (ERP), and Barely repeatable processes.   Most of the real work that needs to be done in EHR workflow improvement happens in the blank white space between the boxes on the org chart.  That’s where you’ll find a lot of the BRPs–Barely Repeatable Processes.

It is easy to automate the ERPs, and nearly impossible to automate the BRPs.  If you can’t reform either set of processes with your EHR all you have implemented is a very expensive chart scanner.

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