Chicken brittle

Aug. 23, 2019

The healthcare industry lags some 10 years behind other industries when it comes to efficient operations, information technology use and overall process management — including decision making, the old saw goes.

That yarn about the 10-year lapse recalls the elderly gentleman, seated in the rocking chair on his front porch, screaming at the neighborhood kids to stay off his lawn. (Of course, in this day and age, it should be counted as a blessing to see kids actually playing outside and not behind the closed doors of their bedrooms waging online gaming battles.)

Unfortunately, the old saw misses some teeth (pun intended).

Subscribing to the inherent value of real-world strategic storytelling posited by a keynote at the AHRMM conference in San Diego more than a month ago, I offer several examples that show cracks in Chicken Little’s warning, “the sky is falling!” Let’s concentrate on IT.

For the last two decades, the healthcare industry has concentrated on a variety of initiatives designed to increase efficiency in administrative, clinical, financial and operational realms, a noble gesture that seemingly converges on excellent patient outcomes and satisfaction. So we’ve been regaled with electronic health/medical records, ERP systems, meaningful use justifications, supply data standards via UDI, etc. All noteworthy causes for desirable effects.

First example: Reaching back into the archives of my old Fast Foreward column in April 2007, you may remember a missive titled, “Flash Point,” that rapped a prominent retailer highly regarded for its IT-enabled supply chain acumen (just look past those well-publicized data breaches that affected scores of customers a few years back). Why? Attempts to purchase specific toy action figures (three selected characters within a famous superhero team) for my then three-year-old triplet boys were complicated by a lack of IT granularity. The retailer rep, armed with a bar-code scanner, could identify how much stock he had of that particular superhero team, but he could not identify with precision how much stock he had of a particular character on that team. Could Supply Chain in healthcare get away with that in terms of the variety of instruments in a surgical tray?

Do UDI? I do!

Second example: Fast forward 12 years to late July as our now 15-year-old triplet boys went for their driving permits on their birthday. To avoid the Friday crowds, we chose a state facility we knew was not as crowded as the one in our bustling hometown and we went in the morning. Smart, eh? Not so fast.

While the clerks (who were genuinely friendly and helpful and not at all like those irritable grouches and harridans you see on television comedies) reveled in working with triplets, they quickly discovered some flaws in their IT registration system that would sequester the Barlow family within their confines well past noon.

Even though the boys had different names and Social Security Numbers, they shared the same birthdate, the same address and … the same initials. (It’s a Barlow family generational tradition that all males bear “RDB.”) Such developments caused their system to smoke, spurt and wheeze.

Do UDI? I do!

Third example: Working recently with a major retailer to have two appliances repaired under warranty uncovered a flaw in their IT system. Although the retailer was able to call up my account details — including contact information, appliance brands and model numbers — the retailer assigned a third-party repair service to do the job that was not qualified. Why? For starters, the retailer required me to contact the business; the business owner then asked me to give him the model numbers of the units to be serviced; finally, because one of the units turned out to be private-label-manufactured by a company he did not support he said could not do the job. Logically but theoretically, the retailer should have known all of these details to match — with precision — the customer with a properly vetted and qualified service technician.

Do UDI? I do!

So the next time someone tries to “dis” healthcare operations as being 10 years behind every other industry, remember these examples, smirk and think to yourself... pffft, okay, maybe five years. Tops.

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