I suspect that you have seen the drawing and blog post describing the difference between equity and equality. It’s a compelling image. Obviously, the shortest child, given equal access to view the baseball game will benefit rather little from such equality.
Yesterday, along with several dozen others, I volunteered at a local county Covid-19 vaccination site. The experience was both uplifting and concerning.
Uplifting: despite an allocation of vaccine that was (much) less than expected, the team – a hodgepodge of retired and semi-retired doctors, nurses, county employees, lawyers and other non-clinical people assembled to build our community’s immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. I was impressed with the dedication, attitude, and commitment of the team from the county health department. I was touched by the gratitude expressed – as hundreds of people patiently and thoughtfully filed into the facility to get their vaccines. After giving the vaccine – I was thanked by many for “saving my life.” Alas – my part was was likely the smallest contributor to this – yet, of course, the most poignant 7 seconds – as I delivered the vaccine to its final destination. Indeed – the hope of this event was itself infectious: after giving our first injections, I reflexively attempted a high-five with the nurse (who happened to be a former colleague of mine) at the next station. She appropriately offered her elbow as a substitute to the high-five. It was a good day – filled with good moments that serve as a tangible milestone toward the end of the pandemic.
Concerning: in this county that is ~ 75% white, I saw very few people of color. 100% of the people who received their vaccine from me were white. All of them arrived by car, and all of them had signed up to be vaccinated by using the Internet. While one might argue that the underserved members of our community had an equal opportunity to sign up for the vaccine (now look back at the drawing above) – I would offer that they certainly didn’t have equity. Indeed – a sobering observation one of my volunteer colleagues shared with me was that we saw nobody from the neighborhoods adjacent to the facility we were in – everyone we were vaccinating seemed to be from the suburbs.
I offer this observation without judgment. The state and county leaders are focused on getting as many people vaccinated as possible. Vaccine supply is limited. They are doing their best – and I don’t think we can/should change the great work they are doing, or question their motives and commitment to health equity or social justice.
Yet we – as a community – can do better. We need to create an adjunct to the programs that now exist – to allocate vaccine explicitly for the underserved and implement outreach that meets them where they are: create equity.
So we will. With the counties, the federally qualified health centers, and community-based organizations – we’ll begin work yesterday to create this equity and get our underserved communities protected.
Re: journalistic style. Is it ‘health care’ or ‘healthcare?’” I use the rules of the “AP Stylebook” for journalists with few exceptions, but one of those is that I write “healthcare” as a single word. I don’t have a strong feeling either way , but the one-word variant saves space without sacrificing (although I acknowledge that (“medicalcare” or “hospitalcare” don’t work).
The difference between these two terms is about more than house style or personal preference. The term healthcare–one word–refers to an industry and the system of providers within it. But health care–two words–is about improving health and caring for people, especially when it comes to treating populations. The current trend toward population health is about making communities healthier by supporting preventive care and wellness. The goal is to provide health care–in order to keep people out of the healthcare system.
And while I can’t deep-link to the AP Style Guide (paywall) … they offered a tweet about this almost exactly two years ago:
We've changed our style to one word for “homepage.” We added “smartwatch” and “timeshare” as one word. But: “health care.” #APStyleChat
The short answer is that “healthcare” has taken on more meaning as a closed compound word to describe the system/industry/field than is captured in the two separate words “health” and “care.” “Health care” does not sufficiently capture the increasing demand for nuance and specificity in referring to topics surrounding the practice and facilitation of services to maintain or improve health. Healthcare represents the political, financial, historical, sociological, and social implications of a system that provides health care to the masses.
I disagree with Jodi and Victor that “healthcare” refers to an industry and a system of providers, though this opinion often appears when one does a google search on this topic. I also disagree with Jodi that “the goal is to provide health care.” No. The goal is to improve health. Sometimes the way we do that is to provide medical care, but let’s not assume this is the only way to improve health. Indeed, we know it’s not.
But I agree with most of what Jodi writes and her conclusion is spot-on: words matter.
I don’t believe that “healthcare” should be used at all. There are many (better) ways to describe the industry: the people, the providers, the practitioners, the care delivery organizations, etc. Indeed, lumping this all together, as Victor argues, loses the nuance and specificity that these other terms express.
: regard coming from desire or esteem a care for the common good
:CHARGE, SUPERVISION under a doctor’s care
: a person or thing that is an object of attention, anxiety, or solicitude The flower garden was her special care.
: to give care care for the sick
So it’s clear that health and care are different. Alone, this isn’t reason to avoid a neologism. Indeed, many words do just that woodpile, headache. As Victor notes above, a closed compound word is one that combines two things (usually nouns) that now assumes a new meaning by itself: basketball, keyboard, popcorn. I’ll acquiesce that if folks are arguing that “healthcare” is a benign compound word that describes an industry, they’re grammatically correct. But we choose not to use many words and phrases that are grammatically correct. (I’ll avoid the hot water that a few examples here would get me into.) Grammatical correctness can’t be only bar; the words need to help us say something meaningful.
Indeed, the words we use convey the world we see (or the world we wish to have).
Let’s look past the naiveté of “benign compound word.” This is the point that Victor and Mr. HisTalk seem to miss: when we separate the words, we share an important message, reminding ourselves and those with whom we communicate that health and care are not synonyms. As a physician, I see the semantic conflation every day in my peers and (sadly) in our medical students and residents. One of my hypotheses is that it is the very egocentrism of our profession(s) that cause us to conflate health with care. If people could be healthy without us – what are we here for? We remind ourselves (and our communities) of our importance by suggesting that care is a necessary precedent of health.
“Of course we don’t do that” you say …
Consider the so-called “annual physical exam.” This is well documented (summaries here, here and here) to increase the quantity of care, yet cause no positive health improvement. Yet its tradition has taught generations that more care = more health. Think about the phrases we use: (that Covid-19 is making us reconsider) … “come back to the office if you’re not better in 2 weeks.” “I can’t refill your prescription because you haven’t had your annual physical.” “It’s probably nothing but I need to do some tests so let’s schedule one office visit for the tests and another to discuss the results.”
This is “healthcare” – the compound word. In connecting these concepts linguistically, we propagate the flawed principle that care causes health, and while care may in many cases be necessary, our goal is better health. There are many examples of how more care is not more health. Great health economists and health journalists have documented this eloquently.
We have evolved language to reflect our evolving (improving?) sensitivity to race, religion, sexual preference and gender. For example, when I am careful to clarify or seek clarification of preferred gender pronouns, I send an explicit message of my awareness of the importance of these preferences to many people. It’s a movement. When we all do this, we remind each other to move past our decades of assumptions so that we can speak (and think) in a manner that is inclusive and respectful.
So the separation of health and care is a similar movement. It’s a linguistic statement that reminds us of a policy goal: these are different concepts and they must be separated culturally, politically and economically. If we are successful in doing so, we’ll make different (better) decisions that will improve health and reduce unnecessary care.
This is why it’s so important to cleave “healthcare.”
Prognosticators offer narratives of what the post-pandemic world will look like, and we see leaders invoke Rahm Emanuel (or was it Winston Churchill?) in their expressions of how they will “Gretzky” this.
Here’s my take. None of this is particularly prescient, but I’ve been asked a few times what I think comes next. My real answer? I don’t know. Some guesses below – all brought to you by the letter p.
Place – where things will happen will never be the same. The assumptions we have made about where things need to happen will evaporate, as many of them already have.
Where do we see a physician? I can vividly remember telling a group of medical students as recently as three years ago that they would practice virtually. They disagreed, parroting what they had been told by their mentors: this “video medicine” thing would never work. “The patients need to come to the office.” What have we learned from the pandemic? At least 40% of the time, a video conversation is just fine.
Where does learning happen? E-learning has been around long enough that we know not to call it e-learning. It’s education. Education happens when people test hypotheses together, make commitments, finish projects. Learning stuff isn’t education. We know that much! Non Satis Scire. If you’ve not listened to this episode of Hidden Brain, please do so. We’ll wait for you here.
Where does business happen? Sign a document. Have a meeting. Meet with the Board of Directors. Hire an employee. Notarize a document. Get married.
Poverty – we have seen only the tip of this growing iceberg. The economy won’t recover right away, and we know that despite the science that SARS-CoV-2 infects all humans equally, we also have learned that COVID-19 harms the underserved much more than it does others. Is the pandemic going to (finally) cause us all to screen for and make the necessary investments to address social determinants of health? I sure hope so.
People – “social distancing” is in fact a misnomer. We’re physically distancing. Social connections can, should and must continue to be close. Vivik Murty’s new book teaches us that we need each other.
We need connections, we need to listen, to love, and learn from each other. We needn’t be in the same room for this to happen.
My uncle turned 85 last month and our extended family all gathered for the affair – from California, New York, and Austria. This wouldn’t have happened before: those of us who weren’t present would have “missed” the party.
Video conference meetings @ work are vastly better than conference calls. Now that there is an expectation that we see each other, the fidelity of conversations is better. Indeed, in many cases, I’d argue that it’s better than a big meeting room with people 18 feet apart. We can see each others’ faces. The nuances of reactions / responses are not lost.
I’ve had a few conversations recently with elected state officials, and I’m reminded that speaking plain language always helps. Here goes:
We all agree that fire stations are a good thing, right?
And we agree that we don’t want them to be busy …
So if the firefighters are always watching Three’s Company reruns, that would be good. We still pay for the fire station. We still pay the salaries. Happily.
Therefore – paying firefighters more for fighting more fires would be silly: their financial success would align with hardship in the community.
But this is how we pay medical providers: more sick people = more $$.
We have a social compact: everyone agrees that we should pay for fire stations (infrastructure) and firefighters (humans) to be ready for fires. We all pay for this with our taxes. It’s the most efficient way for us do this.
Shouldn’t we have a social compact that would cause everyone to agree to pay for hospitals and medical offices (infrastructure) and medical providers (humans)? This would be efficient and effective. Then if the medical providers were idle most of the time (watching Three’s Company reruns) – it would be because the community is healthy. Nobody would complain of reduced revenue due to low volumes of emergency department visits. Kinda like what Maryland did. Seems simple. Why not?
.. and now for something completely different. For me, writing a blog isn’t about getting clicks, earning ad revenue (no ads here) or getting tweeted. I write here to share insight that may be helpful to others. I started writing this in 1999. Topics vary, but I don’t think I’ve blogged yet about car repair. My last big home improvement project (replacing the tank water heater with an on-demand tankless one when the former died suddenly) was well covered on Facebook. I think my rationale there was: “hey friends, look what I did!” Facebook is good for that. Many people have made the tank-to-tankless conversation. The Internet didn’t need to learn that someone else did it.
But I don’t know that anyone’s done what I did yesterday and I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who has experienced the predicament. So a blog is the best way to share a new solution to a common problem. Others will search for the topic and some day, someone will use the information I post here and their life will be better. That is (ideally) what blogs are for.
The problem. We have two cars and a two-car garage. As anyone with a two-car garage knows, (especially with 20 years of accumulation) this is by definition a tight fit. A few weeks ago, the passenger mirror housing of our 2017 Toyota Highlander was damaged (the identity of the driver is not relevant to our story). The mirror itself was ok, but the plastic parts and the turn signal light were broken. This mirror has a “puddle light” (shines down on the ground when entering/leaving @ night) and is heated and has a blind-spot monitor and has a camera for the parking assist camera system. There’s a lot in this thing.
A new mirror assembly, part# 87910-0E292 is $1290 from Toyota or $863 from Toyotapartsdeal.com. I found some used for ~ $500. Why so much? Because of all the “stuff” this mirror has in it – especially the camera, which can be purchased separately for many $$.
There are aftermarket mirrors for as little as $65, but they just have the mirror. No camera, no wiring for the camera, no blind spot monitor. Some have heat, which is valuable here in Upstate NY, and others even support motorized folding, which could have prevented this, but I’m not sure how we’d integrate that feature and control it from inside and these mirrors were missing features we have. The car’s computer complains when stuff it expects (camera especially) are not there.
As I looked carefully at the Toyota parts manual and studied the Toyota service manual (I purchased online access to it for 2 days to do my homework) it became clear to me that the parts I needed (the plastic backing, the plastic “visor” and the (mostly plastic) turn signal light) were all identical to those in the “basic” model of this mirror, part #897810-E143. $244 from the dealer and $173 from Toyotapartsdeal. What’s the difference (other than $690)? The less expensive mirror has few of the extras: no puddle light, no camera, no blind-spot monitor (really just a light that connects to the computer). The plastic housing is the same with two exceptions: a) At the base of the housing, there is a hole into which the assembly for the puddle light and camera fit. b) In the back of the housing, there is a hole for where the camera wiring harness plugs into the wires that come from the door.
Here’s a photo of the hole in the bottom. The lower right corner is gone (due to the collision with the garage door frame) and in the upper right you can see some of my practice cuts. More on that shortly. This hole needs to be precise, so the camera housing fits in properly. Misalignment of the camera is bad: it will mess up the collision avoidance system and the images that the parking assist monitor won’t work. The other hole isn’t as important: just need to have a hole there so the cable can be attached/detached.
So the absence of a ~ 3″ x 2″ hole in the bottom of a plastic part is the difference between spending $173 or $863.
I ordered the $173 part. The first thing that happened was that the (very good) support team at Toyotapartsdeal.com noticed that this wasn’t the right part for my car and sent me a message:
The proper RH mirror is 87910-0E292 @ $863.21 and the cap is 87915-0E040-A0 @ $52.90.
Would you like to change your order?
I don’t need the cap – I have one and it’s not damaged – all I really need is the black plastic housing and the partToyota calls the visor – neither of which it seems I can buy separately. All of the electronics work – so I’ll swap out the innards from the mirror I have and will need to cut a hole in the bottom for puddle light and camera. Oh well. Not perfect but better than spending an extra $700!
They checked again (I got the same email the next day) and called them to make sure we were on the same page.
The package arrived on Saturday morning.
Step 1: disassemble the new mirror to get the parts I want. The key to this step is to remove the mirror itself from the housing. This is easy but must be done right or you’ll break the mirror. Youtube helped some here, but if you try this, do it like this and not like this. The second way – you’ll break the mirror. I broke the mirror when I removed it from the new assembly, but fortunately, when I removed the old mirror from the old assembly, I didn’t break it (used method #1) so all was well. Be careful. Use your hands, not tools. Hold firmly. I also warmed it with a heat gun and sprayed some WD-40 in there too – thinking that softer plastic (subfreezing in the garage) and some lubrication might help. Too many variables to know what caused the better outcome. It worked.
Step 2: remove four torx screws. I’m guessing that these were torx #8. Pretty tight but came out after some coaxing. This holds the back housing to the visor – trapping internal parts: the mirror arm, turn signal light and the mounting base with adjustment motor/electronics. Once these four screws are out, the whole assembly can be (very carefully) separated with some plastic auto clip removal tools like this. $12 on Amazon if you don’t have the kit sitting somewhere in your garage (which is why it’s so full).
Step 3: measure, practice, cut. At this point, I did the same on the existing mirror on the car. What’s nice is that I didn’t need to remove the mirror assembly from the car, which means I didn’t need to remove the door panel, etc. I removed the mirror (see above) and the torx screws, and the cap (which wasn’t damaged so I didn’t have to buy a new one for $50. After disconnecting the wires (and taking photos so I could be sure that the wires go back in the same places), the visor, mirror and housing came off easily. Now I could carefully measure and create a paper template for the hole that needed to be in the base of the housing. I then practiced cutting holes in the plastic on the old housing – to see what was the best way to cut the hole with maximum precision and minimal local deformation. I tried a soldering iron with “knife” tip but a dremel tool with a tiny cutting wheel (like this) did the trick. These things break easily as they’re very thin. I had five of them and used all five. As you can see from the photo above – the opening has a little step-off shelf that the camera-puddle light assembly fits into. I did my best to recreate this with a dremel grinding tip. It almost worked: when installed, there remained a ~ 2mm gap at the leading edge of the camera assembly because the plastic clips that hold it into place didn’t “grab” tightly into the housing base. I probably could have made the shelf deeper but I didn’t want to make it too deep as this would have weakened the plastic – might have broken it.
Step 4: make things snug. To help this fit tight, I clamped the parts together and used epoxy to hold this thing in place forever. Yes. Forever. I won’t be replacing the camera assembly. Once the epoxy cured, I remove the clamp and was pleased to see that – while not perfect – it was pretty close. An astute observer would see that the little shelf the camera housing fits in is a bit rough – definitely not factory-made. Oh well. Can’t see it unless you bend down and look under the mirror.
Step 5: put it all back together. Place turn signal light in its little slot. Go to car. Housing goes in the back, visor goes in the front, sandwiching the arm and electronics. First, plug in the light .. then the camera – making sure the wiring harness goes through the right little slots so wires don’t get caught when mirror moves. Next, replace the four torx screws – pulling everything together. I screwed them all in halfway – then made sure all the plastic parts lined up well – then screwed them in the rest of the way. All good. Now replace the mirror: attach the wires for blind-spot warning light and heater, then snapping it into place with a gentle but confident push. Finally, the cap goes on the back and it’s done!
Tested. Everything works perfectly. The manual says we should recalibrate the collision avoidance system (camera alignment may not be the same). I don’t have the software for that – so if we do it- we’ll have to go to the dealer. Not sure how much that is or if it’s necessary. More homework. The images that the parking assist monitor creates are the same – no blurry gaps etc – so I think the camera – if not in the same position – is almost in the same position.
Total time from opening the box to completed project: 7 hours including dinner break, dog walk, thinking/practicing hole-cutting. If you have to do this, I suggest: a) practice hole-cutting ahead of time. If you have a friend with a router (ideally one mounted or mountable in a table) this would help make a perfect hole with the right step-off shelf.
If you want the parts I didn’t use/need – grab ’em on ebay. I’d rather not throw them out.
Final note: Toyota – why don’t you sell the plastic parts by themselves?! This would make such a repair quick, easy and very inexpensive. I’d have gladly paid $100 for these parts (that probably cost $5 to make) that we know you make every day but (for some reason) won’t sell unless they’re part of a $1200 (list price) assembly. Argh.
Today, The Department of Justice issued an announcement that was “the first ever criminal action against an EHR vendor.”
The core of the criminal action was something inevitable: the tension between better health and better profit. Here’s what I saw … all of which caused me to be not-so-surprised today when the news broke.
In 2008 I was the CMIO at Allscripts. Much of my work was focused on how our customers could use our products to improve the health of our patients. We implemented clinical practice guidelines in the software as a way to help clinical teams and patients make well-informed decisions that would improve their health. The company was doing well, but there was always pressure to find more revenue.
We had a small team that worked closely with pharmaceutical companies and generated revenue from these relationships. I wasn’t very involved with this team, but due to my ownership of many of the clinical decision support initiatives, I started getting invited to meetings we had with pharmaceutical companies. The first was an initiative that involved a company selling a statin drug. They wanted to sponsor a program in which we would use a clinical decision support notification to alert clinicians to patients who might be candidates for statin therapy but had not yet been offered a statin drug. On its face, this seemed appropriate: it invoked evidence based clinical guidance, the decision support didn’t recommend a particular medication, and the clinician could easily ignore the notification.
But something didn’t feel right about this. How would the clinician know that this CDS was sponsored by a pharmaceutical company and some other CDS was not? Should we allow the sponsorship to be secret?
And then there was the company that wanted to sponsor an alert to remind the clinician that a given patient might have untreated hypertension (this company sold several antihypertensive medications) …
And then there were more. I found myself in heated arguments about the evidence basis for many of these opportunities with some of my non-clinical colleagues. In the end, we created an objective committee to review such requests. I don’t recall that any of these things got implemented in our systems at the end of it all – but I do clearly remember that there was pressure to do so, and the dollars that pharmaceutical companies were very tempting to the company.
I talked on occasion with my counterparts at other health IT companies and they told the same stories: tempting dollars, questionable ethics. Mature companies with strong clinical leadership didn’t succumb to these temptations. Epic was even public about their refusal to even entertain the conversations. Good for them! But I wondered about smaller, hungrier companies. Could they resist?
Fast forward a few years and I was at ONC, writing the text of what would become the 2014 Edition of the Certification Criteria for health Information Technology. I wondered how we could prevent pharmaceutical companies from tempting EHR companies to do such things. There were certification requirements for clinical decision support. I knew we couldn’t prevent the business relationships (our authority was to certify the software, not regulate the business operations) but we could make sure that the systems had a capability of informing the clinician (and by extension the patient) of why the clinical decision support guidance was in the system, and what the evidence basis was for the decision support. Here’s how we explained this in the 2014 Final Rule (highlights added):
Consistent with the HITSC’s stated intent, for EHR technology to be certified to this criterion we proposed that it must be capable of providing interventions and the reference resources in paragraph (a)(8)(ii)(A) of § 170.314 by leveraging each one or any combination of the patient-specific data elements listed in paragraphs (a)(8)(i) and (ii) of § 170.314 as well as one or any combination of the user context data points listed in paragraph (a)(8)(iii)(A) of § 170.314. We asserted that EHR technology must also be capable of generating interventions automatically and electronically when a user is interacting with the EHR technology.
Last, expanding on the HITSC’s recommendation that the source attributes of suggested interventions be displayed or available for users, we proposed that, at a minimum, a user should be able to review the: bibliographic citation (i.e., the clinical research/guideline) including publication; developer of the intervention (i.e., the person or entity who translated the intervention from a clinical guideline into electronic form, for example, Company XYZ or University ABC); funding source of the intervention development; and release and, if applicable, revision date of the intervention. We asserted that the availability of this information would enable the user to fully evaluate the intervention and enhance the transparency of all CDS interventions, and thus improve their utility to healthcare professionals and patients.
We got some questions about this – but (I hope) you can see that the goal here was to make sure that any user of an EHR could easily learn the evidence basis for CDS and who paid for it. We hoped that such transparency would diminish the likelihood that sponsored CDS would inappropriately influence clinical decision-making.
Such is the ambition (and true challenge) of the government regulator. The goal is to create a framework wherein innovation is anticipated and even encouraged, while safety is enhanced and fraud prevented.
Practice Fusion was a young aggressive company – funded by venture capital and run by Ryan Howard. Ryan is a dynamic, charismatic guy who sold a vision of an EHR that could be given away and would generate revenue from advertising (like TV or gmail) and the sale of insights to life sciences companies. I first met Ryan on a trip to San Francisco in ~ 2012, when he invited me to come to Practice Fusion to speak with the team about Health IT certification and the meaningful use incentive programs. Such conversations were not uncommon – it is valuable for ONC leaders to meet with the companies we regulated. They would occasionally come visit us in DC, but meeting them on their home turf, we can meet with the folks really doing the work, and they can hear from government leaders first-hand – perhaps enhancing their understanding of some of the “why” of federal regulations rather than just the “what” that they are otherwise exposed to.
My guess is that this was when the sponsored CDS started happening. A small team inside of Practice Fusion was created in ~ 2015 and they were led by a sales executive who worked with pharmaceutical companies to develop CDS programs.
You can see a list of all of the CDS that Practice Fusion (it seems) here. When I click on “learn more” – I get a 404 error. But there are examples like this (and screenshot below) that demonstrate both sponsorship and compliance with ONC’s transparency regulation. Note how the Gaucher Disease recognition CDS bibliographic citation is listed, the developer is Practice Fusion, and the funding source is Genzyme. Connect the dots. Did they have the funding sources listed for all of these CDS interventions? We don’t know.
*On April 8, 2019 the following Pain Management CDS advisories were removed from the EHR:
Patient should be assessed for pain. Document pain scale in the flowsheets section of the encounter.
Patient has chronic pain and should be assessed. Follow the link to complete the Brief Pain Inventory (BPI) short form assessment.
Patient has pain documented and should have a pain care plan.
I do remember that I was aware of the sponsored CDS in ~ 2014, as I recall speaking with the PF Chief Medical Officer about a program that was sponsored to remind providers to immunize patients. I think it may have been influenza and/or HPV. The program was evidence-based, and it was successful: more patients got the immunizations they needed. I remember asking about compliance with the ONC certification requirements (yes), if they had an objective “approval board” like the one we had created at Allscripts (no).
The company’s drive for revenue overshadowed their legal and ethical commitments. I know that there are many people at the company who were not involved in this activity. Good people who work hard and are proud of the product they have build over > 10 years. The company is now a subsidiary of Allscripts (a fact that was oddly missing from the DOJ announcement) and I know that the Allscripts team is providing the maturity and oversight that Practice Fusion simply never had. Full disclosure: my son worked as an engineer at Practice Fusion from August 2014 until April 2018.
Is this happening elsewhere? Has it happened to other companies? I don’t know. But if it is – I suspect they’re on notice now and I sure hope they’ll stop. I applaud the ONC and DOJ team that worked on this (and other) efforts to protect us from companies who have lost their way. Thank you!
We went for a walk yesterday. Griffin carried a stick.
Humans go for walks to “clear our minds” or “get in touch with nature.” Dogs already have clear minds. For them, the freedom of a walking trail without security of a leash or the familiarity of a daily walking route can, it seems, be confusing. “What am I here for?” “Where are we going?” “What’s our goal?” Griffin (see photo above) promptly found himself purpose in the form of a big stick to carry. “Now I feel so much better,” he seemed to say.
Clay Christensen writes and speaks about this, and as we ambled through the Albany Pine Bush yesterday, I realized that Griffin explicitly understood that having clarity of purpose was far better than the freedom (and ambiguity) that the vastness of opportunity offered. The task was now clear: find a big stick and safely deliver it back to the car. In choosing this task, he became focused, engaged and (dare I anthropomorphize?) proud. He looked up at us as if to say “see what I have? Do you approve? Is it big enough?” Rather than randomly running through the woods, criss-crossing the path, distracted by new scents, distant chipmunks and blowing leaves, he maintained a steady trot with head and tail held high, and a steady gaze straight ahead, maintaining his placement squarely and very intentionally in the middle of the path.
And just as Griffin seems to seek the freedom of ambiguity yet ultimately prefer the comfort of structure, humans thread this needle every day and seem have different levels of comfort with the unknown.
Teaching family medicine residents and medical students last week, I was struck by this variability. Some young physicians are perfectly happy to know that they don’t know the cause of a patient’s condition, so long as it is either resolved or not caused by something ominous. Indeed, more than one-third of the time that patients seek medical assistance, physicians are unable to ascribe a clear diagnosis. As I expressed to the first-year medical student last Tuesday, “if you’re not comfortable with uncertainty – don’t pursue a career in family medicine. You’ll be better off in a subspecialty like ophthalmology.” This was not meant to deprecate subspecialists, but to recognize that the people who choose subspecialties are generally less comfortable with the unknown or unknowable. While my counsel was expressed to her, I was also advocating for her future patients. There is nothing worse than a primary care provider who needs to know the right answer to every question. Indeed, cascades of testing and intervention are emotionally, physically and financially harmful. In many cases, a physician’s personal discomfort with uncertainty is the cause of the cascades that are so common that we accept them as an unfortunate but immaleable reality. The key, therefore, is to match individuals with the work they will do most comfortably. Some dogs would roam the forest happily. Griffin is a dog who prefers to carry a stick. Some physicians are comfortable with uncertainty, so will be very comfortable in primary care, while others would suffer as primary care providers, ordering too many tests, advising too many interventions, and as a byproduct of all of this, putting their patients in harm’s way. Perhaps this is the tip of a different iceberg: just as Malcom Gladwell has questioned whether we’re choosing the right law students, is it possible that we’re choosing the wrong medical students for careers in primary care?
Physicians are just a subset of humanity. Non physicians express this variability too. The motto of my undergraduate alma mater, Hampshire College, is “Non Satis Scire.” Translated: “To know is not enough.” Hampshire attracts students who are less focused on getting an A+ and therefore demonstrating what they know (indeed – there are no grades at Hampshire). Rather, Hampshire’s focus is on helping students solve problems. This prepared me incredibly well for a career as a family physician.
Which problems should Hampshire graduates solve? This question may be at the core of Hampshire’s rebirth. Some have argued that Hampshire should choose an identity (social justice, environmental science, computer gaming) and focus its resources on being the best at one thing. But Hampshire has decided instead to venture forward with confidence and – yes – uncertainty. This will prepare its current and future students well for what lies ahead in life. They’ll find their own stick, perhaps after a bit of chipmunk chasing. Life isn’t a race.
I found my stick, which aligns well with the specialty that chose me, family medicine: help others achieve optimal health and happiness.
Like many businesses, our organization has problems to solve. We have good people, products and processes but on occasion we decide that we need more than we have. Our Chief Strategy Officer sometimes reminds me that my vision for our achievements might not be aligned with our capacity. Perhaps this is the role of the CEO – to think a bit bigger than we are. But that’s another blog post. The point here is that we may need help sometimes.
When businesses develop strategies to solve problems, they generally adopt one of a handful of approaches:
Hire a person or people
Try something (pilot / proof-of-concept or POC)
Partner with another organization
RFPs are generally reserved for big projects and evoke thoughts of 45 page .pdf documents with tens of questions and months-long processes of evaluation.
For the record, we never do POCs or pilots. We do projects, and all projects have phases of implementation. Phase 1 is always first, and while we can certainly kill a project at any stage, “phase 1” sends an implicit message that we’re optimistic that there will be a second phase and others thereafter. We’re not ambivalent about moving ahead with anything. “POC” and “pilot” send a message of ambivalence.
There’s an opportunity for organizations to use a process that’s smaller than a big RFP and bigger than a solution-focused decision. It’s the Mini-RFP. We’ve done a handful of these and they’ve worked incredibly well. The whole thing takes 3 weeks.
Here’s how to do it
Define your problem. This isn’t as easy as you think. We use a modified A3 strategy approach. You can use any approach, but be careful not to be looking for faster horses.
Write a set of questions that capture basic business demographics. You can re-use these every time. Name, URL, contact info, how long in business, etc.
Write a short statement about the problem you’re trying to solve. Work hard to make sure that it aligns with step 1 and do your best to avoid describing a product that you’ve seen that you think solves your problem.
Write a set of questions that asks respondents how they would propose to solve your problem: what do they have (people? product(s)?, processes?) that solves your problem. It’s important to avoid leading questions that align with a particular solution you may subconsciously have in mind.
Show the RFP to a friend. Ideally, give them edit rights and ideally this person doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the problem you’re trying to solve. They need to be able to look at this fresh with a “beginner’s mind.” Tell them to go ahead and fix whatever they think needs fixing in the form. No permission required. No time (or need) for “suggested edits.” You’ll be pleased and surprised (and humbled) to see how your initial prose made assumptions that you didn’t see. Let your friend fix them and leave your ego behind.
Add “Brown M & M” questions. While the rationale here is a bit different from what Van Halen did, the idea is the same. You need to know if the respondents are paying attention and have sufficient domain knowledge. We use these questions when we post upwork jobs and they work incredibly well to weed out folks who respond by pasting in paragraphs from other proposals. Instant proposal rejection is what you’re looking to enable here. Be creative here and have fun. One recent RFP asked if BTC, XLM, ETH or neo4J had a role in the project. We asked submitters to avoid googling for an answer. This question was asking two sets of questions: a) How much of a nerd are you? (We wanted nerds) – Do you know what BlockChain is? – Do you know the difference between cryptocurrency and a graph database? b) Do you know that blockchain probably plays no role in this project? (But a graph database might.) Successful respondents get the right answer in 30 seconds because they have domain knowledge. These should be easy questions for the right people and impossible questions for the wrong ones. (If you use the right survey tool – you can see how long they took between questions.) This isn’t a tortoise/hare issue. Perhaps we’ll need to have a chat with Malcom about that. We love tortoises.
Give them 3 – 4 days to reply. We often launch on monday. Close Friday.
Week 2 Process, review, rank, have phone calls with a few of them to get a better sense of who the people are and if you are likely to work well with them. Pick a “winner” by Friday.
Monday. Send the lead applicant a contract. Negotiate rapidly. Lawyers may slow you down. The more you have templated ahead of time – the better – so at least on your side, there are no legal delays.
I have been an occasional Twitter user for a long time. Indeed, I’ve used Twitter since long before you even knew Twitter existed. I say this with some confidence, as Jack Dorsey posted the first tweet in March, 2006. My first tweet was four months later in July 2006. I am Twitter user #1922. Today there are over 130 million twitter users.
Twitter is an effective medium to communicate short messages to many people.
It’s also an easy way to say something – or imply something – that you didn’t quite mean, or didn’t get to explain deeply enough.
Blogs are better.
This post is about why I should have blogged instead of tweeted.
In ~ 2004 there was a platform called blogger, created by Evan Williams. With Blogger, one could craft blog posts and plop them on the Internet for everyone to see. This was a new idea. I experimented (beginning in 1999) with the medium and found that it was a good way for me to communicate with people, provoke thought, and offer insight into the work I was doing. One day I posted an essay about EHR usability that (I thought) nobody read. Three months later, my boss called me and told me that the EHR company whose software I critiqued was unhappy with the post and asked me to take it down.
The next day, the President of that company called me.
We had a wonderful conversation. Then he hired me to help fix his product. The rest is history. My life has been very different. This episode launched a career. Who knows what would have happened had I not posted that critique. I took a risk. I wrote something provocative and it worked out for the better.
Tweets are shorter and offer less context. A blog post (like this) gives us time to think, offer insight and provide background. Elon Musk has cost himself many millions with careless tweets, and some (many?) people have even lost their jobs due to things they have posted online.
But there’s a positive side too. A provocative tweet can have broad impact, can demonstrate thought leadership, and can generate conversations that make the world a better place.
Message: be a careful but provocative tweeter. If you choose to use this medium.
Yesterday I tweeted something (now deleted) that was provocative and perhaps not careful enough. It described a conversation I was having with an employee of a hospital who saw the work that our organization does to improve health in our communities (and reduce hospital volume) as deliberately “harming hospitals.” I asked if flu shots deliberately harmed hospitals too. He didn’t reply – and I thought I was oh-so-smart. Later in the day, I tweeted it, and a handful of people piled on about how hospitals are the problem.
But here’s the thing that I didn’t (couldn’t) say within the boundaries of a tweet. Hospitals are NOT the problem. Gosh – we need hospitals. We need hospitals to be healthy. We need hospitals to be able to invest in people, products, and infrastructure so that they are there for us when we need them – even though we hope we don’t need them.
There is a problem with the policies of how we pay hospitals today. Yes. There is a mindset that the hospital employee expressed that I wanted to question. Yes. Public policy that improves the health of our communities will result in reduced fee-for-service revenue for the hospital. This can result in “harming” the hospital, but I am certain that the intention is not that that the hospital be harmed. The intention is that the hospital migrate to new ways of doing business – to be more than a building with beds in it, but a part of the health (not necessarily the care) of a community. To one who is part of an organization that is being unintentionally harmed by the improved health of a community, this may seem intentional, and it may feel like the hospital needs to be compensated for this harm. My snarky response to this person (and tweeting it) was disrespectful. I wanted him to reconsider his thought process, but perhaps I should have reconsidered mine.
What’s it like to work in an organization whose purpose is to try to put itself out of business? We’ve not yet created a sound business model wherein the hospitals can survive in the context of falling fee-for-service revenue, but we’re asking them to do so. That’s not good policy, and this hospital employee was just describing the world from his perspective. This is a good thing. My next move should have been to listen, learn from him, affirm his position and then (perhaps – if he was in a position to learn from me) offer my perspective so that we could think together about how we might solve public health problems. Of course he doesn’t want people to be unhealthy so that they go to the hospital. It was unfair of me to imply this (even if it was a logical extension of what he said) – it was a move appropriate for a college debate competition, not a collaborative conversation. I’m a bit ashamed that I said what I said. In his defense – we’ve seen very good examples of the hospitals in our community changing for the better, and the hospitals we work with are indeed migrating their work toward better health and away from more care. It’s not easy, and I shouldn’t have poked my finger in the eye of someone doing their best to bridge the gap. #TweetRegret #honesty #humility #Alldoingourbest
When we announced a few weeks ago that our IPA had executed our first contract, I found myself explaining what an IPA is and what it does. An IPA is a business entity that assists multiple independent organizations to contract with managed care organizations (health plans). But it’s uncommon (unheard of?) for an IPA to work with organizations that are not physicians. We even had to update the Wikipedia entry on IPA to clarify that physicians aren’t the only ones who can create or join an IPA.
Where we are now
We have over thirty organizations participating in the IPA. We have two executed agreements with health plans, and expect this to grow. We have a technology platform that connects our community.
Where we are going (and why)
I re-read the 1990’s coffee-table Book “who moved my cheese?” recently, and am now reminded of the simple (yet complicated) lessons therein. The book provides a framework for how we respond to change. A key message is that change will always happen. If we resist it, we will become angry, fearful and confused. If we embrace it, we’ll find new opportunities and flourish. Our IPA is focused on helping organizations embrace (rather than fear) the change that is happening. These changes will, we hope, help us improve the health of hundreds of thousands of people in New York and beyond. Our plan is to continue to build relationships on both sides of this work: growing the breadth and scope of the organizations who join the IPA, and growing the number of health plans with whom we partner.
While the metaphor of a well-oiled machine is overused, I reflect that the mechanics of Alliance are running well – primarily because we have learned to anticipate and embrace change. Indeed, our comfort with change has become our secret sauce. The challenges of early days of start-up disorganization and growth are well behind us, and while we’ll never be perfect, and the start-up of an IPA is non-trivial, our team is working together to do our best to serve our community. I am honored and privileged to work with such a dedicated and talented group of people.