Penguin in a party hat standing out from the crowd.


there’s you,







With much gratitude



A pair of orange striped pants.

A wink to Chris Boyer.

Last week I attended the excellent: Texas Hospital Association’s Health Care Social Media Summit 2012. And yes, it was primarily for hospitals but the pearls of wisdom were/are totally applicable to MCOs.  The following is a curation from my dog-eared Moleskine. I reframed my notes to address those of us in managed care. (BTW it’s lonely being a managed care person in a sea of hospital folk…but I digress).

And yes, I was also tweeting like mad with the rest of the conference attendees. Please check out the hash tag: #HCSMTX to see what was happening. Or this cool HCSMTX e-book from @chimoose.

From @LeeAase, Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media: We have to do a better job telling stories. It’s about compelling content and mixing, matching and linking. Video, video, video – yes we should be doing much more of it. Best way to overcome objections from your compliance officer and other C-suite Luddites: “Well if JCAHO is tweeting and can have a YouTube channel…”

@EdBennett, University of Maryland Medical Center: Patients expect more than we deliver. (Now he was talking about his hospital system, but it certainly isn’t much of a leap to assume that we haven’t measured up to expectations from either patients, providers and regulators). Social media is an opportunity to reach and build communities with all these folks. To be successful, implementing social media has to be approved by the top of the org chart. IT, HR, or Legal shouldn’t decide it – your CEO should. Fundamentally, it’s about culture. And for MCOs that are squeamish about dealing with the inevitable negative comments on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.: reframe it an opportunity to show our passion and commitment.

Notes from the expert panel of Susan Chana Elliott & Matt Pereira, WebMD; Donald Hackett, dailyRx; A.J. Melaragno, On-Site Studios: It’s all about facilitating the conversation between our organization and the needs of our customers. If we aren’t listening, we won’t have any perspective as to where we need to be.  And whether we are actively participating in social media or not, conversations are happening all around us – and with or without us.

@naveen101, LIVESTRONG: It’s all about the social – not just the media. We should be using social media to connect, mobilize, amplify and support.

@reedsmith, Gray Digital Group: Smart phones are driving video adoption – especially in rural areas. Everything you shoot should be optimized for mobile. The most important part of the video is actually the sound. Trends we should be exploring: fast draw, animation, kinetic type, time-lapse, explainer and crowd sourcing. (And of course my personal mantra: Please kill PowerPoint). We need to do a better job at providing media training for folks we put on camera. Or put in front of a microphone. Or allow out the front door of our office.  (Okay that last one is mine).

From Allen Caudle & Sandy Diaz, Edelman: Crisis communication in a digital world requires owning and driving our own content. In a crisis, social sets the pace.  Five steps to manage issues socially: 1. Listen around the clock. Being proactive about what’s being said about you helps you determine what’s a crisis and what isn’t. 2. Implement your voice (and make sure SEO supports it). 3. Be prepared. You should have a presence long before a crisis. 4. Drive crisis traffic to a dark site that has relevant and updated information. 5. Build relationships with advocates who can speak on your behalf. Outsiders are generally more credible to the general public than your spokespeople (can I get an AMEN?).

@Doctor_V, Texas Children’s Hospital and author of one of my favorite blogs 33 Charts: Delete the stethoscope pictures from your materials – docs have moved on to more precise diagnostic instruments. (I’m looking at you, GE V-scan).  The democratization of media makes all doctors, nurses, and staff, etc. “publishers.” So it would be smart for us to help them refine their voice and share their stories. Docs are at the top of the cone of trust. (I’m fairly certain managed care is near the bottom). Social media would go a long way towards improving our credibility.

@ChrisBoyer, Inova Health System: According to a recent YouGov study, 81% of consumers believe that if a hospital has a strong social media presence they are likely to be more cutting edge. Social media reinforces our collective mission of: providing the best care, being fiscally responsible and building strong relationships. Don’t get cute with redefining ROI. It’s math: financial gain/savings – cost…divided by cost. Period. Done well, any social media campaign should be easily measurable in terms of ROI by: driving growth, lowering marketing and communication costs and increasing loyalty and customer satisfaction. (BTW the pants image above is a hat tip to Chris and my fellow attendees…ya had to be there.)

So I hope these nuggets give us all something to think about because we are late to the party. #Ahem.

The "Test of our progress" quote from FDR etched in stone.

Photographed at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (July 2012)

For all of us that have the privilege of working with these programs, a bit of FDR for inspiration.

In Memory of Uncle Bob

July 24, 2012 — 2 Comments

Of the 48,000 quilt panels on display this week in Washington D.C., the upper right-hand corner of this one is in memory of Bob Doyle, my uncle. Known later in his life as Patrick –  he died of AIDS in 1989.

The fact that we’ve come so far in the HIV/AIDS fight is bittersweet to those of us who lost loved ones in the years before treatments were available.

Picture of a section of the AIDS quilt with Patrick Doyle's Square

Looks like it should taste good.

A red, ripe tomato sitting on a kitchen counter

Supermarket tomatoes look amazing and taste like cardboard. Why? Decades ago farmers began tweaking the tomato’s DNA to look more appealing on the shelf and last longer. However, the same genetic mutation that makes for great color – prevents the production of sugars and carotenoids that make a tomato taste like a tomato. It also, ironically, kills off most of the health benefits.

I think care management has gone the way of the tomato.

Most health insurers have care management programs that look good enough (we provide high-quality low-cost care!). But bite into one and you find that there’s not a lot of care there at all. In fact personal communication and interaction, the hallmarks of care management, have all but disappeared. (Notice how I didn’t use the phrase “customer engagement” which I think has been wildly overused and part of the problem. That’s another blog.)

So let’s take a closer look.

Walk the halls (cube farms?) of any insurer and you might be impressed by the titles on the nameplates: Customer Care Specialist, Senior Care Coordinator, Integrated Care Manager and Provider Relations Specialist. Looks impressive – yes? You might actually think the majority of these folks can solve some problems – right?

Upon closer inspection you’ll find the cubes are filled with the least expensive, least experienced people  – and this is the team that makes the first impression on a customer.  In fairness, the majority of these folks do the best they can with what they’ve got. Sadly, what they have is poorly integrated systems and policy & procedure overkill. The result? Most front line staff would love to help you but they can’t.

This is most evident by the excruciatingly frustrating experience we all have when we call 1-800 Health Plan. If you can successfully make it past the efficient teleprompt menu of 30 dialing options (“Before selecting an option, listen carefully as our menu has changed – and connect with a live person in less than two minutes, you are off to a good start.

Initial hurdle cleared, Joe Member Service Rep welcomes you by stammering through his “Thanks for Calling” script – the delivery of which has all the warmth and authenticity of “Have a nice day!” at the check out line at the grocery store.

You spend the next few minutes spelling your name (at least twice) and reciting you Member ID (all 27 alpha/numeric characters of it). These preliminaries dispensed with, Joe assures you that “your call is important,” before placing you in Muzak on hold while his screen updates. (BTW if you are a glutton for punishment, I dare you to click on the Muzak link – if only to study the option for “Sonic Branding.” I’m not kidding.)

A minute or two of NuJazz is all it takes for Joe to click his way through an online decision grid to see if he’s allowed/authorized to help you. Odds are stacked heavily against Joe.  Okay, he can’t help you, but the good news is Tina the Care Coordinator can. It’s another minute for the “warm” transfer. Don’t assume that means the facts of your call will magically appear on Tina’s screen. Hard to believe given all the tech we have at our disposal, but for whatever reason, healthcare organizations lag far behind everyone else when it comes to integrated customer support systems – but I digress.

Tina introduces herself to you and after dutifully repeating all the information you just gave Joe, you will be asked a new series of Q&A driven by her desktop software. For whatever reason this software/system/computer is always buggy. “I’m sorry. My computer keeps freezing up. Can you repeat that again? You need a referral for…what?” And so it goes.

With any luck, after 15 to 20 minutes into this care management “excellence ” you might get your question answered.  Might. However, if your issue requires the intervention of a licensed professional, the chances of you connecting to one during that first call are slim to none. Unlike the first two levels of care management, RNs and Medical Directors are few and far between. Because they are some of the highest salaried staff, they are saddled with the responsibilities of three people. In fact, most nurse managers and medical directors today spend less time practicing at the top of their license than they ever have. What does this mean to us?

Instead of providing peer-to-peer guidance to our physician (comparing treatment options, evaluating the latest research, getting that authorization for surgery fast-tracked), they are bogged down managing staff, managing casework, managing committees and managing “management.” So consider it a victory if you get a call back from these ultimate decision makers within 48 hours. This whole process is incredibly frustrating for everyone and instead of getting better; it seems to be getting worse.

Back to tomatoes…

Breeding the genetic mutation out of tomatoes, according to researchers, could take years. Once corrected, the tomato might look less appealing, but the taste and nutrition will be back. I think we need to look at care management through the same lens. Time to excise the overly aggressive cost containment gene and reintroduce genuine, hassle-free communication. It could take a while, but once we engineer the care back into care management, I’m willing to bet the cost savings will be there. One might say improvements might show up organically.

More posts on re-designing care management are on the way.

So, I heard about Uber via Twitter a few weeks ago while doing some surfing relating to my upcoming vacation to D.C. They bill themselves as your on-demand private driver, and promise clean cars within minutes of ordering via handy app. No more worries about competing for a cab, haggling with the price and putting up with rude drivers and sticky seats. Since I was arriving with a 10-year old in record-setting heat, this seemed more than a little appealing.

Signed up before I left for D.C. which took all of two minutes to input credit card and contact info. Arrived at Dulles, whipped out my phone, hit the Uber app and within 5 minutes a Town Car pulled up. In the short amount of time between requesting a ride and getting a ride, I received text messages from Uber alerting me of my driver’s ETA. The driver’s name and star rating showed up on my screen – along with an option to call him directly.  When our car pulled up, the driver couldn’t have been nicer: introduced himself, helped with our bags, gave us cold water bottles. We felt like V.I.P.s.

When he heard it was Max’s first trip to D.C., he happily morphed into a private tour guide. I couldn’t believe our good fortune. Once we arrived at our destination, the app asks you to rate your driver before it closes out. And unlike most surveys (nuisance!) – the rating (1 to 5 stars) is accomplished with one click. Your score is instantly averaged into your driver’s current star rating for instant accountability! (BTW I never was paired with a driver who had less than a 4.6 rating during our 4 day stay). Easy.

Better still, before I exited the car I already had a detailed email receipt – complete with map of route taken. A great feature for those of us who turn in business receipts that are scrutinized within an inch of their life. I was positively beaming as I headed into our hotel. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a customer experience quite like that. Needless to say, that positive first impression had us Uber-ing through the city for the entire stay and we were never disappointed. Outstanding service even in the throes of the Fourth of July holiday crowds.

An image of a text message apology sent from Uber to me

And here is where it really gets exceptional. Coming back from the Nats game on Day 2,  our driver missed an exit. Not a big deal. He was awfully apologetic and we were happy to see some more sites as we backtracked to our hotel.  As I filled out my driver survey – I noted the missed exit in a comment box. This was not a complaint, more like a FYI. Imagine my surprise when I saw this email (photo on the left).

SERIOUSLY!  How unexpected and utterly cool?  Which brings up some more coolness. The same route capture image that shows up on your receipt is also monitored by management which is helpful when there is a dispute.

I’m going to let this utterly superb customer service experience roll around my brain for a while. Somewhere is a lesson for those of us in healthcare. Not sure if it’s an app – plenty of mHealth coming out. First thought: waiting room times.

It’s the attitude that really resonated with me. Clearly the mission at Uber is to delight the passenger, each and every time.

So to quickly rehash: Need a ride? Tap that app and watch as the blinking car icon makes it way. Need to chat with the driver? Tap the app where it has his/her number – very handy  in crowded pick-up zones. (Hi, Ashley here. I have a neon green t-shirt with an ice cream stain and a 10-year-old with a matching stain – on the corner of 23rd and Constitution). No more worries about enough cash or whether they accept a credit card. No more awkward tip calculations. And at ride’s end there is an instant email receipt for expenses.

Uber: should you come to Austin, I’ll be happy to ditch my car. I think it won’t be long before taxi’s will have no choice but to match this level of service or face extinction.

Taxi anyone? Yeah, I didn’t think so.