Anticipating Clients’ Needs

client-needs-blogI was recently fortunate enough to visit two Ritz-Carlton Hotels in the span of a few weeks followed by another premium hotel which I will refer to as Hotel B.  If you have ever stayed at a Ritz, the following will come as no surprise, but they seem to read your mind at times.  Sure, you are always greeted with a smile at any hotel and offered help with luggage or directions.  What I’m referring to is how they anticipate your needs either through past experience or more importantly through listening to what you are not saying.

As an example, while departing Hotel B, my car was brought up, bags were put into the car and I was on my merry way.  Whereas  when leaving the Ritz, my car was brought up, bags were put into the car, but I was then asked where I was headed.  I explained I was headed to San Diego while absently loading an address in my cell phone’s GPS app.  Before I looked up, the valet had returned with water bottles stating that traffic could be rough this time of day and I might need them.  Additionally he saw the route in my GPS, along with my vacation appropriate attire, and made a recommendation for an alternate route if I didn’t mind a more scenic drive with less traffic.  It was this anticipation of needs that inspires guest loyalty, and commands a premium.

As I look around in the healthcare technology space, we must do a better job of anticipating our clients’ needs, rather than just reacting to what they are saying to us.  The industry is suffering from a lack of satisfaction and companies are having a hard time standing out from the herd.  Most are banking on their next big feature to be a differentiator that certainly has a powerful impact if it solves a particular problem. But without a firm understanding of their needs, it’s not going to resonate. Features will also come and go, requirements will morph, and regulations will change— and that’s due to the very nature of software and healthcare as a whole.  I would argue, let’s make service the one thing clients can’t live without.  Let’s stop simply listening to clients, and instead try to anticipate their needs and offer them solutions to problems they may not have verbalized yet.

After all, the features we offer are only as good as our fundamental understanding of their needs, spoken AND unspoken.

New World, New Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

new-world-blogI am not the first and will most certainly not be the last to discuss the shift from the fee-for-service model to the value-based model. Additionally, I do not claim to have any answers on where we will end up on the continuum between the two. What is obvious, however, is the fact that we need to begin looking at how we measure success today and how it will be measured tomorrow.

Most articles and studies today focus on large, complex health systems because they are at the forefront of the changes. Given the rocky start to programs like the 2-year-old CMS Pioneer ACO program—where 75% of participants failed to earn bonuses—the buzz on the shift to value is less than positive. So the question remains, how do we get ready for the shift and avoid the pitfalls seen by the health systems?

Change your KPI (Key Performance Indicator) perspective!

Practices today are very focused on cost reduction. As with any business, if you reduce unneeded costs, and maintain revenue, you increase profitability. Well, what if we translated that in the value-based world to Cost of Care? Imagine that you start this now and can soon prove that by reducing unneeded tests, prescribing generic drugs, and adding a rigorous pre- and post-surgery education program, your total Cost of Care is lower. This information could be used to gain bundled payment bonuses, not to mention the added benefits of cost reduction itself.

Other KPIs that should change are around patient access and engagement. Most practices have adopted the meaningful use benchmarks as their high-water mark for portal usage. However, we should change the conversation to true Patient Engagement. Rather than X% of providers sending a message to a patient or completing a VDT task (patients viewing, downloading or transmitting their clinical record), track the value added by your portal. Ask yourself if patients with a portal are more loyal? Do they add on more ancillary services that you provide? Do they refer more new patients to your practice? Do they have a better pre- and post-surgery experience? Aside from these more qualitative measure that can increase value, you can track cycle times for clinical and non-clinical processes, which directly impact costs to you in terms of staff time.

Last but not least is something that health systems already track but that can be adapted to the specialty ambulatory setting, Capture Rate. This is the portion of the patient’s total care that is captured by your practice. This means driving adoption of “other” services or simply grabbing market share. This KPI can be driven up by providing advanced access. This may mean having a percentage of the schedule open for on-demand access, or adding e-visits, or expanding hours. You can dovetail this with a portal to provide a more self-serve model. The concept here is that if you can provide more of the touch points in your practices, you can reduce costs along the continuum of care.

Experiment, Adjust, and Communicate.

Defining your KPIs is the first step towards creating a measurable improvement. While the ones above are some suggestions, your team may come up with more targeted KPIs based on your practice goals. A few quick tips as you go forward.

  1. Keep it simple – KPIs are not about data for the sake of data. Pick 1 or 2 and experiment.
  2. Be ready to pivot – We learn the most from mistakes and there is nothing wrong with changing course when you have more data.
  3. Consider both short- and long-term goals – Don’t try to jump to 100% value-based KPIs in 1 step.
  4. Communicate! – The biggest mistake you can make is not involving your entire organization. The full team must understand the end goal and then progress toward it. Nothing kills an initiative like the lack of a sense of ownership.

What are your teams doing to get ready for the shift to the value-based model? Do you have KPIs that you’d like to share?

Choose a Partner, Not a Vendor

tree-blog2In today’s day and age, we are all guilty of looking for instant gratification. When we shop, we want same-day shipping, or we want it to be in stock so we can pick it up. To make matters worse, we can get the same product from 100 different vendors. So if Widget World doesn’t get it to me fast or cheap enough, I’ll just get it from MyWidgets.com. These buying trends force vendors to compete on price alone and reduce the quality of the buying experience and service.

When you are buying a 60 inch TV or a laptop, it’s a non-issue, but is this mentality flowing through into your business decisions? If you are looking for HIT solutions, you’ve no doubt seen that most vendors are starting to sound the same, look the same, claim the same benefits and are simply competing on price and how fast they say they can get you up and running.

I believe we should go back to the days of partnerships! A partner makes the effort to understand the problems that your business faces. They consult with you in order to ensure their solutions meet your needs. Partners value the relationship more than getting you to sign the next contract.

You don’t want another HIT vendor, you want a partner. Partners are the better choice!

  • Their success is your success- they’re not just in it for a quick sale. They’re truly invested in your practice’s growth and success, and will continually offer you meaningful guidance and resources.
  • Your visions align- their mission matches your practice goals. An HIT partner who shares your vision will offer more benefits with stronger and longer lasting relationships.
  • Your voice matters- collaboration, sharing of insights, and engagement is important to them. Your involvement is genuinely valued, and they’ll listen and will take action to improve their products or services based on your feedback because they have your interest in mind.

Let’s face it, what I’m suggesting is not rocket science and yet I often see relationships as a distant second to immediacy. I urge you to stop, take a breath and think. When I have a need, can I call someone that knows my practice? If an issue needs escalation, can I get to second or third level management? Can I have a conversation with the Executive team when I have a question about their vision or direction?

If you need the answers above to be “YES”, make sure you find a partner.

What’s your criteria for choosing a partner?

Tomorrow’s Technology

As a product manager in the healthcare information technology industry, I speak with customers, potential clients, partners, and competitors on a regular basis to identify emerging trends. For the most part, the feedback is actionable and concrete—there is a market need that is both urgent and pervasive, and, if solved correctly, will bring value to our customers. However, recently the topics on everyone’s minds are more abstract. They are monolithic concepts like “interoperability,” “big data,” “analytics,” “outcomes,” and my favorite: “population health management.”

Every year the research and advisory company Gartner releases a “Hype Cycle” for various industries. It plots the most-talked-about emerging technology trends on a continuum, and, based on historical track records, estimates how long before that technology becomes productive. Below is the continuum and what the stages actually mean. This year’s release includes three technology items that reflect the concepts mentioned above. According to Gartner, “Content Analytics,” “Big Data,” and “Mobile Health” are 5–10 years from becoming productive technologies that are widely embraced and, more importantly, bring value to customers.

Gartner-chartSource: Gartner, Inc.

At this point, some of you may be thinking, “I can’t wait for 5 years, I need these things today.” The good news is that many companies are racing to build, improve, or buy the technology to address all of these trends. Some already exist in the marketplace, and other new products or services will be launched in the near future. The bad news, as I see it, is that no one will get it just right on the first try. As with any other industry offering, we will see many iterations over the next few years. Each one will improve by using lessons learned from the last iteration. Ultimately, the market will decide which options add value to the practice and patient.

Although I am personally excited to see what the next few years bring, I do have a few words of caution for healthcare providers and practices who are looking to leverage these technologies. First, because these technologies are in their infancy, it is important that you provide frequent feedback to your partners. Let them know what works and what doesn’t. This will help them to develop the functionality that you value. Second, since all of these trends revolve around data, you must be willing to invest time in capturing it. If you don’t have it, you can’t analyze, exchange, or act on it.

I look forward to reading your comments and learning about your views.