Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Evolution of Healthcare Mystery Shopping

Patients answer patient satisfaction survey questions based on their perception, and yet there is limited context for the healthcare provider. It leaves one asking the questions – who were they interacting with, what was said, when did it happen, and how capable and reliable was the patient to make those interpretations? So instead of convening a committee to explore the reasons for poor scores, healthcare mystery shopping provides healthcare clients with the research intelligence needed to make real-time improvements.

In an era of value based purchasing with a focus on inpatient stays, I have estimated that over 80% of the lives touched by health systems in this country are not patients at all, but rather family members, visitors, outpatients, and consumers of everything from equipment to Starbucks. By all means make the patient room environment as clean and silent as possible, communicate effectively with the patient, and ensure that they are fully prepared to be discharged, but the emphasis must still be on the patient’s perception. Observations, opinions, and ultimately consumer decisions derive from that source.

The elevated importance of patient satisfaction data means that as the data is digested, more and more questions will arise. For instance, a survey will tell you there is a concern with the friendliness of the radiology staff. Instead of creating a broad-brush customer service program for the Radiology Department, the logical next step is to determine how the department is being perceived by end-users, what the department’s behavioral weaknesses are, and who on the staff is exhibiting those behaviors.

Together patient satisfaction data and healthcare mystery shopping can begin to focus on meaningful solutions that cause providers to say, “We know from patient satisfaction there is a problem and from mystery shopping we know what that problem is and who is primarily responsible.”

While it is recommended that managers look for coaching opportunities by observing their employees in action, expecting them to alter the service culture is less likely since – for the most part – they created the culture. Because this type of research is strictly consumer perception, it provides an unbiased view of a department or organization’s culture. This gives managers a third party perspective that increases coaching opportunities.

Types of Healthcare Mystery Shopping

From those early days of healthcare mystery shopping, healthcare provider requests have gotten more creative, more targeted, and more sophisticated. For example, a client may request something as all encompassing as a 24-hour inpatient stay in which the shopper is admitted for a 24-hour period to evaluate the patient experience from registration to discharge. Or shoppers may be asked to call physician offices to make appointments with the intent of determining how long it will be before they can be seen tying the research to more efficient use of resources.

In 2008, healthcare mystery shopping received significant national press when the American Medical Association attempted to take up a position on the practice. What was not as readily reported was the fact that the issue was tabled indefinitely. In fact, it was already the custom of one of the leading providers (prior to the accusation that healthcare mystery shopping was unnecessarily taking up physician time) to utilize what they call process observations. This form of mystery shopping, which is most effective in Emergency Departments, avoids taking up valuable patient time by having a shopper join a patient as a friend as they go through the patient experience.

Two of the most beneficial types of perception research are: 1) shopping the competition, and 2) evaluating individual employees. Call it spying, many do, but it is important to know your competition’s culture. For example, what do they believe in and how is it transferred to the patient, and can the anecdotal stories you’ve heard be verified?

A great deal of value can be derived from conducting evaluations of individual employees. For a number of reasons – cost certainly being a factor – this works best in a departmental environment and gives managers an apples-to-apples comparison of each employee as it pertains to specific standards, i.e., is Cindy more likely than Jeff to greet patients immediately (setting up a coaching opportunity for Jeff)? Or, does Jeff do a great job of cross-selling services and should be commended?

Healthcare mystery shopping also gives managers concrete examples of the specific behavior that “turns patients on.” This sets up the perfect opportunity to present to staff the behaviors the organization would like emulated while giving kudos to the employee who displays them.

Quantitative and Qualitative Appeal

Healthcare mystery shopping appeals to managers and administrators whether they are left brained (numbers focused) or right brained (narrative focused). On the one hand, mystery shopping is about story telling. Fred Lee wrote in If Disney Ran Your Hospital, “What seems to be a major component of both loyalty and dissatisfaction are stories. A satisfied person has no story to tell.” Stories are important in articulating the who, what, when, where, and how of the patient or consumer experience. The right brain approach to mystery shopping allows clients to clearly discern the difference between a completely satisfactory experience and all the various facets that went into it, and those elements of an experience that triggered displeasure or frustration. At the same time, healthcare mystery shopping is an effective compliance tool. Standards that are specific to the healthcare industry, and therefore can be benchmarked, are mixed with organizationally specific standards to create a quantitative amalgam that can be data spliced in any way necessary. Healthcare mystery shopping primarily answers the following question – How well does your organization perform on the behaviors and processes you told your people are important? In addition, it lets organizations measure those standards against perception-based goals.

Two Way Radios in Primary and Acute Healthcare

Communication plays a crucial role in healthcare. Timely dissemination and sharing of information is critical for acute healthcare providers. Similarly, primary healthcare can be easily administered by using practical and handy communication channels. However, there are several factors that need to be taken into account before deciding upon an effective mode of communication in both primary and acute healthcare institutions. Reliability, coverage and confidentiality of transmitted information along with the institution’s capacity in handling the equipment, play an important role. Healthcare institutions can largely benefit from a mobile clinical staff and two way radios can provide prolific results if used effectively for sharing information.

Functionality and Build of Two Way Radios

Two way radios allow only one function at a time – either receiving or sending the signal. This helps the users efficiently communicate without interrupting the interlocutor. These devices are helpful in exchange of crisp information, rather than constant communication. Two way radios are also known as transceivers or walkie talkies.

Two way radios are simple devices made of primarily six components: power source, receiver, transmitter, microphone, speaker and the crystal. This implies that running and maintenance costs for these devices are not too high. Two or more communicating devices operate on the same radio frequency and a push-to-talk button switches the device between receiving and transmitting modes.

Primary Healthcare and its Challenges

There is a growing emphasis to offer primary healthcare to one and all. This requires creating an environment where equal emphasis is laid on healthcare for all individuals. However, shortage of trained medical practitioners poses a serious threat to achieving this objective. Medical planners have to focus on the use of technology to make the maximum use of the available resources.

Isolation of patients is a big problem that surfaces in primary healthcare. Patients who need medical attention are usually dispersed, especially in rural areas and may not have access to medical facilities. The supply of drugs and medical tests are difficult to conduct and this defeats the very objective of primary healthcare. Lack of communication is another major problem in administering primary healthcare.

A quick exchange of information offers a suitable solution to meet all these challenges. Two way radios enable exchanging of crucial medical information and gradation of current medical practices. The absence of advanced technologies in many locations also increases the importance of two way radio communication devices.

Using Two Way Radios in Primary Healthcare Settings

The most important use of two way radio in delivering primary healthcare is in connecting local medical practitioners with hospitals in cities and more advanced areas. This is critical to diagnosing a patient as well as for prescriptive purposes. A timely decision whether the patient must be referred to a hospital with advanced facilities can be crucial in saving lives. The hospital can also monitor the condition of a patient at another location through two way radios.

How well two way radio technology is implemented for primary healthcare will be dependent on medical and health protocols. Doctors in some countries contact health aides and monitor the situation of the patient by use of two way radios. The medical structure of a community and the country determines how effectively the two way radio can be used for primary healthcare.

Emergency situations can also be addressed by using two way radio. Lack of good transportation and communication facilities can jeopardize a community in case of a medical emergency. Two way radios can be used to send news of such medical exigencies to hospitals or district headquarters and help save many lives.

In some countries, two way radios are used to connect fieldworkers with doctors who are constantly on the move. Use of airplanes helps attend to critical patients in a very short time as soon as the news is delivered by way of two way radios.

Two way radios can also help in training field workers who play an important role in primary healthcare. It depends on the level of existing competence of the medical workers and the desired levels of training. Moreover, field workers can listen in to the conversation of co-workers with physicians and learn by observing the standard medical practices adopted in different cases.

Using Two Way Radios in Acute Healthcare Settings

Clinical information in a hospital can be shared with the help of two way radios. A mobile unit of clinical staff will be more efficient in dealing with day-to-day problems faced by patients and in specific cases where a patient requires immediate attention. A patient who undergoes a complicated heart surgery may require constant monitoring for a few hours after the operation. However, it may not be possible for the doctor who operated on the patient to stay by his side all the time. Two way radios can prove to be a handy solution for helping healthcare institutions, solve such critical operational issues. A nurse attending on the operated patient can inform the doctor about the patient’s progress or whether the patient needs immediate attention, using two way radios. This will not just update the doctor on the patient’s condition but also help him take immediate decisions based on the available inputs. The healthcare industry has successfully tested and used two way radios for acute healthcare. Hospitals make wide use of two way radios for exchange of information among healthcare workers.

Two Way Radios: Advantages

Two way radios provide for a cost effective medium of instant communication. Healthcare industry requires rapid and extensive sharing of information in the most cost effective and efficient manner. A large healthcare institution can be brought under the ambit of wireless radio communication without running up high costs. Moreover, radio signals are quite reliable as compared to mobile networks, where one must depend on the network strength and connectivity. Also, issues of interference do not surface often. Maintenance costs for these devices are also considerably low.

Two Way Radios: Standard Practices for Operation

Some of the standard practices followed for using two way radios in healthcare institutions are:

  • The devices are used in “receive only” mode in patient areas.
  • Medical staff is advised to leave the patient area if the device has to be used for outgoing communication.
  • Two way radios must be kept at a distance from highly energized medical devices.
  • Lowest possible setting must be used to avoid any interference if the device so permits.
  • In case of malfunctioning of any medical equipment, the use of radio devices must be stopped immediately.
  • Unnecessary use of two way radios may distract a medical practitioner during surgery. Therefore, such devices must be used only when required to avoid any delay in patient care.
  • Using Two Way Radio Systems: Interference and Other Issues

Two way radios do not generally interfere with other medical equipment. Research studies have proved that hospitals can safely use two way radios for communication purposes. These devices can be safely used at a distance of 0.5 meters from most medical equipment. The reason is that these devices operate at high frequencies and do not cause any interference. However, the use of two way radios is discouraged in highly sensitive medical environments like the ICU.

Healthcare Executive Recruiting

Experience breeds intuition when it comes to healthcare executive recruiting. Does it work for horse racing too? I will not attempt to prove whether experience improves your outcome at the track. However, healthcare venture capitalists often use horse racing analogies when discussing ideal investments. These venture capitalists prefer to bet on the jockey versus the horse. Their logic, it’s the people that drive the business.

A healthcare venture capital firm’s success is dependent on their ability to recruit and retain a high-performing Jockey, a.k.a. “the CEO.” If it was only so easy to win The Kentucky Derby or deliver a ten-bagger return. My healthcare executive recruiting experience working with healthcare venture capital firms provides intuition in defining the firm’s CEO need. Once understood, identifying and recruiting the CEO and building a solid support team for the CEO requires experience, extensive networks, new and real-time research and a thorough process. The intent of this article is to offer outcome-driven insights for the healthcare venture capital firm that chooses to search internally for a portfolio CEO versus retaining a healthcare executive recruiting firm.

Recent quarters show an increased level of new capital investment from healthcare venture capital firms. The Health Care M&A Monthly reported in March 2008 that healthcare services deal volume in February 2008 totaled thirty completed deals. Looking back to 2007, total funding for healthcare venture capital deals was more than $9 billion across more than 480 deals. Healthcare venture capital investment increases the demand for these firms to conduct a thorough and accurate executive search process in order to identify, recruit and retain the CEO. While a healthcare venture capital firm often retains a healthcare executive recruiting firm to assist in CEO recruiting efforts, healthcare venture capital firms can mimic the search process of the top healthcare executive recruiting firms.

Insights from healthcare executive recruiting firm processes will lead to an improved exit:

1. Healthcare venture capital firms are committed to recruiting a proven CEO for the portfolio business and may occasionally be inclined to conduct an in-house CEO search process. The approach is to put a CEO in place that is known by the healthcare venture capital firm from previous experiences and business dealings. However, many times these healthcare venture capital firms will admit they “don’t know what they don’t know” about the business, the segment, or the pool of available CEO talent. However, if there was any doubt at the onset, it quickly becomes clear they need to bet on the jockey to run an unfamiliar race. It is at this point the firm should consider duplicating the search methodology that healthcare executive recruiting firms utilize for CEO assignments.

Healthcare executive recruiting firms are engaged to identify and recruit leading CEOs for high-growth, venture backed businesses. To reduce the risk of making a hiring mistake, a healthcare venture capital firm’s internal search process should assess those executives the firm knows and trusts in parallel with proven executives who are newly introduced to the healthcare venture capital firm. Ultimately the CEO may be selected from the firm’s personal rolodex. However, the value of benchmarking known CEOs against a broader CEO talent-pool will prove valuable.

2. CEO contingency and succession planning belongs early in the healthcare venture capital firm’s investment. Recruiting strategies to recruit key CEOs, senior leaders and board members are at the foundation for a portfolio company’s success. Common practice is for the healthcare venture capital firm to identify and recruit a seasoned and industry-experienced board member, one capable of leading the business if the current CEO cannot finish the race. The immediate need is fiduciary but both succession and contingency planning should be considered too. While some individuals believe that succession planning should be below the CEO, healthcare venture capital firms are interested in developing concepts and financial carry more so than developing future leadership talent. Therefore, succession and contingency planning belong in the board room for two reasons: one, if the CEO in place is successful the new board member can maintain his or her fiduciary duties. However, if the CEO loses control of the business or the market, this board member is engaged and able to step in immediately. This hedge strategy can be effective to dramatically reduce downside risk.

Funding Your Own Healthcare

Introduction

More folks including both individual adults and families are on their own to provide funding for healthcare. There is a growing trend of being your own freelance business owner, being a contract employee or being employed by a business that does not offer a health insurance benefit. Many people make the mistake of buying price instead of value in a healthcare funding plan. This article provides an overview of options for funding healthcare with both advantages and disadvantages of each strategy.

How Much does Healthcare Cost?

Understanding what healthcare costs is important to deciding the best strategy for funding your own healthcare needs. Buying based only on price and not value (price vs. benefits) is a common and very grave mistake. Some examples of what healthcare can cost will help illuminate the importance of value and risk transfer (insurance) in funding your own healthcare.

Routine Care: Having an ongoing relationship with a medical doctor is important value and can help you avoid much more costly illness and improve your overall health outcome. I am an example of the benefits of routine medical care with the goals of avoiding cardiovascular disease, diabetes and managing my sinus allergies. My recent doctor visit including blood test = $248 Well Baby Check (price from local pediatrician) = $160 Annual Physical = $500? Cost depends on how elaborate a physical you get.

Rx Drug: Prescription drugs are approximately 10% of total healthcare spending [1]. Prescription drugs can be a large component of treating a major or chronic illness. These are drugs that I take with the list prices from my local drug store. OTC Claratin (equivalent house brand) = $10 / month Crestor = $137.99 / month Astelin = $115.99 / month An example of a more expensive medicine that my wife takes regularly for her chronic migraines: Topamax (generic equivalent) = $566.99 / month

Diagnostic Tests: Diagnostic tests are an important part of most disease identification, management and treatment and are a large component of healthcare costs. My recent blood test (three panels) = $152 X-Rays = $100+ Mammogram = $150+ MRI = $1000+; a complex MRI can cost several thousand dollars

Emergency Care: ER Visit = $1000+; this is based on my experience – I have never had an ER visit that was less than a $1000 in billed costs

Hospital Admission About 30% of healthcare costs are for in-patient hospitalization. The average length of a hospital stay is five days [2] with costs highly dependent on treatment. Heart Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) – Example from one of my clients = $45,000 including an ER admission and then three days in the hospital

Major Illness: Cancer (Lymphoma) – My brother over two years of treatment = $500,000+; It is hard to tell the actual total but when I called to see if my brother was close to exceeding his $1 million lifetime limit the expectation was at least $500,000 in paid benefits to complete his cancer treatment.

Chronic Illness: A chronic illness is defined by a medical condition lasting a year or more that requires ongoing treatment. Examples are Diabetes, Asthma, hypertension and Depression. Approximately half of all Americans have some kind of chronic aliment [2]. Type 2 Diabetes – Average Annual Cost = $5949 [3] Asthma – Average Annual Cost = $3192 [4]

Put all of this in a gigantic pile and the average cost of healthcare in Texas according to the Texas Department of Insurance in 2006 was $7110 per person. That is $593 per month per person. Admittedly that includes a lot of unhealthy and high healthcare uses but it provides some perspective on what healthcare costs. If you have not had a close relative, family or friend with a serious illness or injury, it is hard to imagine the high cost of healthcare. Value in funding healthcare is more than helping with the cost of routine care. Value to me means grappling with the risk of a major illness or injury.

Choices for Funding Healthcare

Cash – Just buy it when you need it and pay what it costs out-of-pocket. The big disadvantage of the “Cash” or what I call the “If we are Lucky Plan…” is that you have no protection of the risk for a major illness or injury. We have over 24% of Texans uninsured for healthcare with a fourth of the uninsured on the “Cash” plan by choice — about 6% of the entire population.

Advantages:

  1. No Monthly Premium / Fees
  2. Ask for Cash discount from healthcare providers
  3. Available to all

Disadvantages:

  1. No financial protection from the risk of a major illness or injury
  2. Difficulty in accessing cares without insurance; some healthcare providers may require advance payment
  3. You pay the whole bill for medical treatment