Archive for the ‘Hospital Administration’ category

The Marketing Enigma

February 15th, 2009

As the economy continues to present its myriad of challenges nationwide, hospital executives are embracing a variety of cost-cutting measures at a very high rate of implementation. Delays or discontinuation of capital projects, employee layoffs, and a variety of other broad-based measures are currently dominating the healthcare environment.

Departments without direct patient contact are usually perceived to be the easier layers to peel in these expense reduction activities. Areas such as marketing, community, and public relations often become prime targets as they are significantly scaled back or even disbanded.

Historically, hospitals have implemented fluctuating sequences from one extreme to another as they have decreased and increased marketing department sizes and budgets through the various economic cycles. Unmistakably, in challenging economic times, marketing is nearly always more important than ever. Without knowledge concerning the various services available, the patients will not be aware of the nuances of each and how they could impact their health and wellness.

Having said this, however, many hospital executives are not experts in this area, and consequently, they simply move in lockstep with those individuals who see these programs as non-patient expense centers that merely drain the organization of its valuable resources even further.

BusinessDictionary.com aptly describes marketing as the management process through which goods and services move from concept to customer. As a philosophy, it is based on thinking about the business in terms of the customer, or in healthcare, patient needs and their satisfaction. As a practice, it consists of the coordination of four elements:

  • identification, selection, and development of a product
  • determination of its cost
  • selection of a distribution channel to reach the patient, and…
  • development and implementation of a promotional strategy designed to reach these goals

In order to avoid erroneous decisions that could lead to disastrous business consequences for the organization, marketing evaluations might be performed by professional marketing assessment companies specializing in this arena. Some of these firms can provide this service in economically viable risk-reward agreements that do not further complicate the financial challenges being addressed. They specialize in the evaluation of services that detail which marketing functions need to be continued and which functions should be restructured, and/or outsourced. The goal of these marketing evaluation firms is to:

  • help preserve the existing positive effects created by marketing
  • build better marketing practices, and…
  • cut the unnecessary associated costs

In two decades of observing the yo-yo phenomena described above, we have worked with numerous individuals and firms along the way, but none have been more valuable than the firms that specialize specifically in this area of marketing department analysis.

Firms that provide this specific service can be found through the American Association of Healthcare Consultants, The American Marketing Association, and the Society for Professional Marketing Services.

In our work, however, we have found at least one company that has continuously provided the necessary analytic and evaluation components required to complete this sensitive task. Corathers Health Consulting is a unique organization because it utilizes luminaries and unique specialty consultants through a team approach for most of their highly customized projects. What we observed when we worked with Corathers was that their distinguished consultation supplied an unparalleled differentiating factor over the other consulting companies with whom we had previously worked, but they are one of many such firms.

Regardless of the organization chosen, the concept is the key, and that is that you owe it to yourself and to your organization to understand exactly what can or should be eliminated or outsourced before the cuts are irreversibly implemented. The future of your organization may lie directly under that hatchet, and once the decision has been made, reverse is a costly gear to find on a very bumpy road of lost business, missing publicity, and absent advertising. The answer lies in cutting wisely and appropriately as you attempt to keep patients informed and to grow your business.

Linking a patient-Centered Approach to Quality Improvement & HCAPS

Nick Jacobs, FACHE addresses the 2008 Healthcare CEO Summit, co-sponsored by the Picker Institute and Planetree. Chicago, IL USA – Fall, 2008

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The Coming HIPAAcalypse?

November 14th, 2008

Mayan CalendarThere was a television show on at about 3:00 AM the other morning that, once again, predicted the end of the world. This time, it was the manifestation of predictions from two ends of the earth: both the ancient Chinese and the Mayan Indians concluded 5,000 years ago that the world would end on December 21, 2012. (I think that Merlin the Magician was involved too, but he would have been just a kid 5,000 years ago!) Both predictions were written at nearly the same time, and both predicted the same date, but I believe that I have discovered what may contribute to this major catastrophe:

It is my prediction that the collapse of the planet as we know it will come from HIPAA.

According to Wikipedia,

“The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1996. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explain that Title I of HIPAA protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Title II of HIPAA, known as the Administrative Simplification (AS) provisions, requires the establishment of national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health insurance plans, and employers.”

Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? Just hire a full time security person for your electronic medical records, oh and don’t forget to spend millions to create the medical records in the first place. After that, life will be just fine? Right? Wrong.

If you have had little training in what the term oxymoron means, this would be a classic example; “The Administrative Simplification provision.” This provision was intended to deal with the privacy and security of health data. That is also a very noble idea. If two patients are in the same room, and someone is discussing the status of either patient, there should be a sound proof curtain between them. Soundproof curtains would also qualify as an oxymoron. For those of us who have lived this nightmare called HIPAA, Senator Kennedy has often been quoted regarding the fact that his intentions when designing this act have become grossly bureaucratic in their implementation.

Here’s the totally mystifying, Merlin-type description; the standards are meant to improve the effectiveness of our health care system by encouraging the extensive use of electronic data interchange in the U.S. health care system. Seriously, all of this sounds good. The problem comes when hundreds or thousands of government bureaucratic health care wonks and healthcare attorneys are introduced into the equation.

Well, a few weeks ago, according to Managed Healthcare Executive Magazine, the department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and Providence Health Services, Providence Health System, and Providence Hospice and Home Care entered into the first case where a monetary settlement was paid to resolve a potential violation of the HIPAA privacy and security standards.

Providence agreed, without admission of liability, to pay $100,000 to the government over a data breach. This case did not involve a single egregious violation. So, it appears that, HHS may believe that enforcement time has come as they become more aggressive in their investigations and enforcement of these laws. Hence, the end of the world may be approaching. If all of the hospitals are fined into closure, and then the avian flu hits, the most often heard phrase will be “Hasta la vista, Baby.”

I don’t mean to make light of such an important topic as patient confidentiality or the potential portability of health insurance, but, if any of us mere mortals could objectively step back and witness the chaos, expense, and outright insanity created by the current implementation of these statutes, the only objective phrase that could eventually emit from that experience would be, “Holy, $%#@&!”

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Something’s Gotta Give, Something’s Gotta Give, Something’s Gotta Give!

November 1st, 2008

My Facebook friend, Anne Zieger, editor of Fierce Health Finance, wrote a compelling piece the other day regarding the potential demise of hundreds of hospitals. Her prediction is based upon some very valid financial realities, and we are witnessing them locally as well as nationally. Not unlike the little banks in our area that seemed to have been insulated from Wall Street’s collapse, some of these national problems seem to be washing over some of the smaller hospitals with relatively minimal damage. Yes, many of us have seen as much as a 10% decrease in elective, outpatient procedures.

In fact, while visiting a really upscale mall for a photo session with my two year old granddaughter, Lucy, an employee engaged me in a conversation about the rotten economy. About five minutes into the conversation, she indicated that there are currently 150 stores in the chain for which she works, and that only five percent of them made budget last month. Portrait pictures must fall into the category of a luxury as their business is severely impacted by this economy. More directly, however, she indicated that she needed stitches removed the other day, and that, “she did it herself” rather than spend the $20 co-pay.

So, are we seeing decreases in important tests? Are we seeing patients avoiding emergency room visits? Are we seeing patients cutting their prescriptions in half? Yes, to all of these questions. Anne, however, seemed to be talking about the “big boys,” where their millions or billions in investments have recently tanked. If you are so big that your income from running the hospital is not a major source of protection, and your income from your investments is propping you up, then the problems begin to manifest themselves exponentially.

“Some hospitals are responding by digging into their investment income more deeply than usual, using it to finance capital projects, or even meet operational needs. Others are issuing bonds with the scary codicil that they’ll buy them back if finicky investors want to dump them,” states Zieger in her column.

She further goes on to explain that “both of these situations put a huge squeeze on hospitals’ long-term viability. One robs from their long-term assets to solve medium-term problems, while the other puts the hospitals at risk of being bled dry by investors who get spooked.”

Well, wouldn’t ya know? Yes, we are seeing a few challenges due to decreased electives, but not because we were living off of our investments. The other good news is that, because we froze our fixed pensions several years ago, we are seeing very little impact upon them from the huge drop in those investments as well. Unlike many of our larger peers, neither of these issues is similar. Between the drops in the market, the loss of pension funds, the decrease in electives, and the down-grading of their viability by the bond markets, their challenges look galactic in size compared to ours.

Sometimes smaller is just safer.

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As Close to Home As You Can Get

October 15th, 2008

Yesterday afternoon the realities of humanism, mortality, and fear attempted to take me out for about the one millionth time in my life. A phone call came from a loved one casually explaining that the doctor had potentially discovered a problem that needed further examination. When the office called for an appointment to have the scan done, they were told that it would be approximately a week before there was an opening in the schedule.

As an insider, I knew that a certain number of slots were held each day for emergency or unscheduled procedures. Not unlike the hotel that holds back a room or two from the 1-800 reservation list, just in case a preferred guest or luminary comes through the doors, flexibility is something that hospitals have to embrace at some level.

Taking the Hell out of Healthcare by Nick JacobsOnce again, as an insider, a call to the department resulted in an immediate invitation to come in for the test the very next day.

My route to health care management was a particularly unique and circuitous route, and it left me asking the question, “why does it have to be this way?” I’ve personally done everything that I can to make it humane, patient centered, and sensitive.

If you or your loved one wants to know the inside story on how hospitals work, take a look at my new book, “Taking the Hell out of Healthcare.” It really can help. It is a simple “how to” book aimed at the everyday person who is having to deal with this complex and sometimes difficult world of health care.

My passion and personal commitment has always been to patient advocacy, transparency, and human kindness. Find out how to make the system work for you.

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In Their Own Words: Patients, staff and physicians on their experiences at Nick’s Planetree hospital

October 5th, 2008

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: hospital medical)
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Think Global and Act Local

October 1st, 2008

Over the years people who’ve liked me have referred to me as a real visionary, but, in all fairness, the people who thought that I was an incompetent also called me a visionary. One group called me that as a compliment. The other group used the description as a put down. Considering that my physician discontinued my prescription of Atromid S medication back in the late 70’s because he said the it caused early cataracts, I’m not all that sure about my actual vision.

As a kid it was fair to say that my approach to any problem that came my way was, well, it was just different. In fact, I’d spend hours trying to come up with unique solutions to problems that otherwise might have only taken a few minutes to solve the normal way. It was my thing.

In fact, my problem solving skills could only be described as journeys down the “Road Less Traveled.” Kind of the McGyver approach. What can I do to meet this challenge by using a Zippo, some thread, a chewing gum wrapper, and piano wire? Of course there were sometimes periodic episodes of near tragedy from this approach, you know, like the time I watched the front right wheel on my wagon roll past me as my journey took me down the 80% grade that my parents called the backyard. Thank God the axle dug in just enough to stop me before the approaching cliff. (The bobby pin didn’t hold.) Between Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading course and Cliff Notes, I read Moby Dick in about 13 minutes.

By the time college rolled around, it was clear that my addiction had spread from alternative methodologies of problem solving to a pure and simple love affair with anything that was new, cutting edge, leading (or even bleeding) edge or avant garde. “Contemporary” was the catch word all those years ago. From art films to modern music, there was no end to my attraction to new and novel things.

Well, Inside Healthcare ran an article by Clay Sherman that was entitled Think Global and Act Local that contained some great tips for survival in healthcare. Mr. Sherman talked about the Joint Commission the way that most hosptial CEO’s would like to, but do not have the guts to do so. He described the Joint’s role as one of minimalism, and that was where his description stopped. His suggestion was to drop the Joint and to engage some larger, more aggressive organizations like NCOA or Leapfrog. His words of wisdom here were, “Either embrace a rigorous standards process, or watch your successor do it.”

Mr. Sherman went on to suggest the need for us to embrace best practices methodologies, new standardization techniques, online communities for patients with similar diseases, and he closed by saying “Stay centered focused in building human assets — its their brains that are going to get you there.” Hmmm? Sounds a little like last week’s blog.

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Quality of Care

July 31st, 2008
Back in the 70’s, competitive marching bands came into vogue in Western Pennsylvania. Let me explain the before and after of this phenomenon: Before there were competitions, bands were made up of nearly 10 times more students than they typically have today. My bands ranged in size from 120 to 185 students. Once competition came into play, the borderline students were not able to survive. Consequently, it is not unusual now to have 20 students or less in a band.

Steelcity_border

What’s happening in medicine and in health care overall? The Government is taking a three-pronged approach to improve quality in health care:

1. They are pushing quality through public reporting. (Check a website near you.)

2. Enforcing quality through the False Claims Act. (Check a prison near you.)

3. Incentivizing quality through payment reform. (Check a checkbook near you.)

Senator Chuck Grassley is quoted as saying, “Today, Medicare rewards poor quality care. That is just plain wrong, and we need to address this problem.”

HMO’s are currently embracing “pay for performance” plans for physicians and hospitals. Medicare is introducing value-based purchase plans. Medicare is proposing the linking of quality outcomes to physician payments.

As I have written before, hospitals will no longer be paid for hospital acquired conditions. That seems like a rather simple fix, but to appropriately determine if the condition was not acquired at the hospital, extensive testing must be added pre-admission at considerable costs to the hospitals.

James G. Sheehan, Medicaid Inspector General of New York said, “We are reviewing assorted sources of quality information on your facility to see what it says and if it is consistent. You should be doing the same.”

Except for the financial implications, not unlike my competitive band story, the goal was to work toward perfection. The public reporting of quality of care is intended to:

1. Correct inappropriate behavior

2. Identify overpayment’s

3. Deny payments

KirkOgrosky
The False Claims Act, on the other hand has different goals. When asked how he viewed the False Claims Act, Kirk Ogrosky, U.S. Deputy Chief for Health Care Fraud said, “You will see more and more physicians going to jail.” I guess the prisoners will be receiving better care.

Where’s it all going? Competitive band. Will it improve health care delivery? Probably, for the patients who can find the few docs and hospital that will be left? I recently had a conversation with a young computer specialist who took care of physician practices. He said, “Doctors and hospitals haven’t figured it out yet, but they are simply becoming data entry centers for ‘Big Brother’ as the facts and figures are accumulated to be used against them any way the payers decide to move forward.”

Looking back at the school year that included gym class twice a week for the entire year, rich courses in music and art, and remembering a time when priorities included those classes intended to make every student well rounded, we have to ask, “Is education today better?

Maybe this is all too complicated to get our arms around, but if there are 78 million Baby Boomers, and the Medicare Trust Fund is heading toward bankruptcy, then we probably will see every rule in the book being applied to keep from paying out money, because there is simply not enough money to go around.

Will health care improve? Once we understand that technology is not the end all and cure all that creates healing; once we endorse prevention, wellness, optimal healing environments, and systems approaches to health and wellness, health care will improve. I’ll bet you that it will have very little to do with the rules that are unfolding right now and much more to do with the creation and acceptance of a National Health Policy.

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A Time to Reflect On Life

June 15th, 2008

With the passing of Tim Russert, we are all made critically aware of the fragile nature of life and our need to embrace every moment as a gift.  Obviously, within a split second, every aspect of our lives can change, and, as in Mr. Russert’s case, can end.  This is not a blog about instant death, and it is not just about recognizing our mortality.  It is about preparing for our passing carefully.

Russert
Liz Szabo, a writer with USA Today described in a recent article the cancer patient experience by saying, “Patients with advanced cancer often don’t know how long they have to live or how chemotherapy will affect their lives.”  According to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, many physicians either don’t give patients that type of information or the patients only “hear what they choose to hear, or very often misunderstand what is said to them.”

This situation often leads to patients requesting incredibly disruptive and sometimes painful therapies that have no hope of succeeding.  According to the study, more than 20% of Medicare patients who have advanced cancer begin a new chemo regimen two weeks before they die.  Many times patients are admitted to hospice days or hours before they die.

What has been observed in cases like this was that the patient often misses the opportunity to repair relationships, get their spiritual house in order or even prepare the necessary documents such as advanced directives.

Where is this going?  Sarah Harrington, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond, co-author of the quoted article, indicated that “in the last few weeks or months of life, a lot of good work can be done.”

One of the points brought up in the article was that only about 37% of physicians told patients how long they had to live. This fact was not surprising to us because we have seen dozens of patients who were admitted to hospice over the years return home and live several more months or years. This particular prediction is not always dependable. The other fact quoted in the article, however, was that many patients learned more about their cases from other patients than from their physicians.

The article concluded with the suggestion that “patients and their families may have to take the initiative in finding answers to important questions.”  Thomas Smith, co-author and Chairman of Hematology and Oncology at VCU’s Massey Cancer Center suggested that the following questions should be asked by any patient in this situation:   What are my options?  Can I be cured?  Will I live longer with Chemo?  Should I consider Hospice or Palliative Care?  Who could help me cope?  What do I want to pass on to my family to tell them about my life?

Eldercare_visit
Palliative care is not limited to cancer.  All end-of-of life diagnoses qualify patients for hospice and palliative care.  Tim didn’t need or have this opportunity, but for those who do, embrace it. The primary thing that can be delivered to the patient and their family is the comfort of having caregivers dedicated to helping you move through your transition.  It is what they do.  These amazing people, volunteers, employees and physicians are dedicated to “paying it forward.”

So, as we eventually face our own mortality, as we evaluate what it is that we want to share with our families, as we consider the legacy that we wish to leave, having a clear mind and looking to those professionals who can help us is not only necessary, it is imperative. This transition can come in the blink of an eye.

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Managers, Smanagers…It’s Over

April 17th, 2008

Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith wrote a very interesting book entitled The End of Management. In this book, they assert that managers are the dinosaurs of our modern organizational ecology. They go on to assert that the “‘Age of Management’ is finally coming to a close.”  Their treatise is that “the need for overseers, surrogate parents, scolds, monitors, functionaries, disciplinarians, bureaucrats, and lone implementers is over. . . ”

End_of_management_cover_2If, by now, you managers are wondering what comes next, our authors assert that the new need, the true need in modern day business is for “visionaries, leaders, coordinator coaches, mentors, facilitators, and conflict resolvers.”

In a recent conversation with an “old school” manager/friend, I reached out to explain to him why he was alienating his subordinate.  I explained very carefully that management as a self-contained system fails to open the heart or free the spirit.  This approach has truly taken our organization to new heights.  Of course, one can only work within one’s comfort zones, and many managers, especially, old school managers, only know one approach, and that is, the industrial revolution way.

Let me suggest that you analyze the quality of the individuals with whom you work.  Then, step back and realize just how amazing those individuals are with “butterfly” qualities.

Do not penalize your charges because of your insecurities.  Build a team that “has your back” by empowering them to be all that they can be.

The revolution quoted by Cloke and Goldsmith is one of “turning the inflexible, autocratic, static, coercive bureaucracies into agile, evolving, democratic, collaborative, self-managing webs of association.”  From our perspective, the object is to allow those butterflies the freedom to fly.

How do you manage a butterfly?  Work together on the goals and then get out of its way.  Provide it with just the very basic, fundamental needs and goals of your organization, and then trust it, love it, empower it, and encourage it.

If I could possibly find one example that would clearly embrace our success as an organization, it is that of doing everything possible to kill “parent to child management.”  It is not enough to move into the 21st century with our thinking; it is most important to identify those individuals who get it and then give them the space “to do it.”

Are they traditional?  Do they do everything the way you were taught in the “dark ages of the industrialized style of management?”  Nope.  Will it drive you crazy when you look for them, and discover that they are not on the flower where you expected to find them?  Sometimes.  Will they accomplish more than you have ever dreamed if you treat them with dignity, respect, love and freedom?  Oh, yeah.

You see, it is not about control.  Control is only necessary for those who are not trustworthy.  Better than trying to control a non trustworthy individual, simply help them find work somewhere else.  If they don’t get the mission, don’t understand the philosophy, and don’t work to their capacity, they shouldn’t be there.

On the other hand, if they are loyal, trustworthy, committed, and caring, back off and allow them to soar, and you will never see results of the kind they that they will deliver to you or your organization.

If they look at it as a job, if they are only comfortable with myriad rules, time clocks and books of policies, they are stuck in the past.

Leadership means trust.

The End of Management, Kenneth Cloke & Joan Goldsmith

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Random Thoughts. . . Learn From Your Mistakes

March 21st, 2008

Make sure you know the question before you give the answer.

My kids taught me a lot about this job. At age seven, my son said, "Dad, where did I come from?" I knew that question was coming, but I had not expected it that soon. "Son," I said, "Let me explain about life" As I began my meticulously rehearsed tale of the birds and the bees, I slowly explained the nuances of life, love and more bees.

I was perspiring profusely as I stumbled over these sensitive descriptions. After about ten minutes of squirming, stuttering and stammering I said, "Do you understand, son?" To which he turned to me and said, "Heck, Dad, I knew all that stuff. I just wanted to know what hospital I came from, Mercy or Windber?"

Learn to share.

Hospitals deal every day in life and death issues. They are extremely complex and multifarious places. Emotions can run very high as well as we deal with the challenges and mysteries of life. Helping people to share has been a very large part of my life. Helping them to share resources, time, space and all aspects of life is a very important contributor to our success as both care givers and human beings. When I was eight, my Aunt Mildred gave me three pieces of bubble gum. As I was walking home with all three pieces stuffed into my jaw, a group of kids jumped me, pinned me down, took my gum right out of my mouth and divided it up between them. It would have been a lot easier on me if I had just kept a few pieces out to share.

Finally, don’t repeat it if you don’t understand it.

In any organization there always seems to be someone who takes great pleasure in telling the story when they aren't really sure of its meaning. After standing near Jack, a 15 year old sixth grader at school one day, my vocabulary expanded exponentially. He talked about mysterious things that made no sense to me, but he was big and I was small. In my world, that meant that Jack knew all. That night when my mom told me, the little third grader, to get ready for bed, I looked up at her standing beside my grandmother, aunt and dad and said, "I don’t have to go to bed, you @$#%&*$@!"

My limp cleared up right before I had to walk across the stage to pick up my college diploma thirteen years later.

Learn from your mistakes.

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