My high-school-aged son is taking a personal finance class, and he recently asked some good questions about my retirement plans and investments. Since I’m a super-smart adult and knowledgeable about all things, I confidently answered his initial questions. Then he started asking more involved questions, and I was forced to fall back on my go-to answer: “I don’t know, actually, but I’ve got a guy for that.” (Since my retirement advisor is male, I’m okay with the ‘guy’ terminology, but from now on, I’m sticking with person.)
“I’ve got a person for that.” I seem to say that often, now that I reflect up on it. Plumbing problem? I’ve got someone. Tax question? I’ve got someone. Snow removal? Physical therapy? Garage door repair? Check, check, check: I’ve got people. These folks might not even know that they’re my people, but they are. When I’ve got a question or need help solving a problem, this is the network of experts I tap. Curiously, none of them have call centers. They’re not all available 24 hours a day (my garage door person is available 24/7/365, but that comes with a price, which I recently had to pay on a Saturday night when my garage door came off the tracks!) None of them uses expensive CRM (customer relationship management) software, so sometimes they forget who I am, but that’s okay, I remind them.
My people aren’t the cheapest around, and while they may not be the absolute smartest or best at what they do, they’re always much smarter and better than me at these tasks and problems. And if they don’t know the answer, they likely know someone who does. In medicine, we often say that the best surgeon is one who knows when not to operate. I’d argue similarly that I want a plumber who knows when to say, “I’m not sure if I can safely make a hole in that beam; we better ask an engineer.” These are the sort of people who I want to add to my list.
Big corporations aren’t known for allowing their customers to have their own people. Unlike the folks I referenced above, if I call most companies, I do get a call center with a random operator. I may make a connection with that person, but it’s generally impossible to talk to them again. Hence, I’m often stuck repeating my story over and over. Fancy CRM software actually can make these call centers more palatable if — and that’s a big if — operators take good notes so that the person answering the phone can quickly get up to speed without requiring a lot of work on the caller’s part. Still, that’s nothing like having your own person!
As frequent readers of my blog may know, I travel a lot for work. This means that airlines and hotels like me. Or rather, they like my business. I continue to be impressed by both my airline and hotel chain of choice because I see them trying to give me my own person. In fact, since I spend so much time and money with a particular hotel chain, they’ve actually given me my own person. She has a name, not an operator ID number. I have her direct phone number (not a toll-free 800 number) which she typically answers during regular business hours. And if she’s busy or it’s after hours, I’m automatically connected to an on-call colleague of hers. My person can’t solve all of my problems, but she’s performed a few miracles for me already. I’m sure this is an expensive program, but it delights me and keeps me coming back for more (and that’s good for business).
In the healthcare IT world in which I live, it’s typical to see clinicians dial into a helpdesk call center if they need assistance. Most of these helpdesks use CRM to track issues and tickets. Some offer more personalized help than others. I think helpdesk call centers are great for some problems, like password lockouts and lack of technology access. But if a physician is struggling to get his or her work done in the EHR, a more personalized approach works even better. You know where I’m going with this: physicians should have… a person!
While it’s a luxury at many health systems, some groups do have folks who focus on IT and/or clinical operations; these liaisons or ambassadors (some of the common names I’ve come across) are assigned to a group of doctors and are tasked with forging personal relationships with many of them. This doesn’t mean knowing their favorite color or spouse’s name; it means knowing what kind of work they do, knowing how they interact with technology, and being available for questions and issues. Ideally, it means being proactive and engaging with the physicians before they must engage with their person. For example, if you know that a certain doctor heavily leverages an EHR function that is about to be updated, it would behoove the physician liaison to reach out and talk about this before it happens. These conversations are always easier before a change is made.
As we all know, physician burnout is a problem across the nation. If physicians had an IT person, at least one aspect that pains many docs could be made a bit better.
Craig Joseph, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer for Avaap, an EHR and ERP consulting firm. He is a pediatrician and physician informaticist with experience in both clinical practice and the use of the EHR to improve patient care and physician efficiency. Dr. Joseph also currently serves as the Interim CMIO at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California. This piece was originally posted on Avaap’s blog page.