2 Phrases to Never Use When Selling to Hospitals

I have seen just about every vendor pitch known to humanity.  For over 19 years, I was Executive Vice President at Georgia Hospital Association, and one of my five areas of responsibility was leading the entrepreneurial subsidiary that endorses outside vendors.  So I had a string of vendors regularly coming through my office.


The concept of pattern recognition teaches that, given enough data, you begin to notice certain things repeating over time.  And my 19+ years of hearing companies pitch their products definitely honed this skillset.  Most did a fine job presenting their products, but I learned to screen out potential vendor partners as soon as they uttered one of the following phrases:


"We're the only company that has . . . .”  The first few times I heard that, I naively believed it, but as I dug around after those meetings, I learned that most of the time, that claim was a stretch at best or a complete fable at worst.  I'm not that smart, and if I figured that out, you know that hospital leaders will also see through the fog.  Uttering those words may gain you some immediate interest, but once your sales prospect figures out that your claim is akin to stating that dark chocolate is a health food because it has a tiny amount of anti-oxidants, your credibility tanks. 


Unless you are truly first to market in a given niche, the chances that absolutely no one can offer what you can is pretty remote.  Technically, you may be the only vendor with a very specific approach, but there is a good chance another vendor may offer a parallel approach that substantially overlaps with yours.  Don't utter those words.  You will be ratted out!  By all means, talk about your product's superior features, but don't claim that no one else can do the same unless you can document that.


"All you have to do is . . . ."  I recall one vendor who came into my office and stated that he had spent eight years studying supply chain issues in the automotive industry and had just figured out how inefficient hospitals are.  Now he was applying his knowledge to solve hospitals' miserable performance.  "All you have to do is . . . . ." 


Sorry.  Game over.  Thanks for playing.  That phrase betrays a woeful underestimation of healthcare's complexities.  Management genius Peter Drucker famously identified healthcare as the most complex industry to manage.  With countless layers and overlaps, dozens of competing agendas, and professional rivalries of all kinds, the word "complex" may be an understatement.  So uttering, "All you have to do is . . . ." immediately pegs you as an industry outsider and implies that you think you’re smarter than the highly educated professionals who have invested years in the industry.


By all means, promote your product's uniquenesses, and be sure to point out how your product will streamline operations.  But don't overstate your case, and don't blow your credibility by underestimating the difficulty of retooling healthcare's processes.


Does Your Healthcare Tech Product Fuel the "Alarm Fatigue Syndrome"?

Alarm clock.jpg

Data is good. More data is better. At least that’s what some people think. Although there is some truth to that position, at some point, too much information leads to overload. There is a difference between the volume and the value of data, and more data doesn’t automatically lead to better patient or operational outcomes.   

In an interview published in the April 30, 2018 issue of Modern Healthcare, Allscripts CEO Paul Black discussed data that is not properly managed, harmonized and de-duplicated. His comments referred to assimilating Big Data feeds that incorporate information from several sources, but his remarks apply to all of healthcare data. “It’s like reading the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and C-Span all at once,” he said.  Without an interpretive framework, data is just noise.

Anyone who has spent any time in either an inpatient or Emergency Department setting has heard numerous alarms happily chirping in the background and being ignored by virtually everyone. Many electronic gizmos that are part of patient care these days sport alarms to alert caregivers when some kind of threshold is exceeded. And these thresholds are exceeded regularly. By many devices. And they are regularly ignored. If everything becomes urgent, nothing is urgent.

When medication management software for physicians first hit the market, there were so many low threshold alerts about dosing and potential interactions that many physicians learned to click right through them and essentially ignore most of them, defeating the alerts’ purposes. In some cases, they missed truly important warnings resulting in patient harm.

Patients may think it’s wonderful that their primary care physician can access the steady stream of heartrate and other biometric data from their fitness monitors, but no physician has the time to sort through tons of undifferentiated data. Even getting a condensed daily feed of summary data can be overwhelming unless there is an analytical overlay to alert the clinician when action is required. The best apps provide clear alert systems (e.g., color-coding patients as green, yellow or red) so someone from the physician’s staff can immediately identify the patients that require immediate attention.


  • If you are vendor offering a product that greatly increases data flow to physicians or hospitals, be sure to solicit input from relevant clinicians concerning the types of information that are truly helpful. 

  • You must include an analytical framework that provides immediately identifiable intervention thresholds. 

  • Incorporate the ability to conveniently modify alert thresholds so clinicians can customize notifications to match their preferences.

  • Develop mechanisms that guide clinicians toward suitable interventions so they can easily step in. Remember that beyond being valid, data must also be actionable.

  • As you are presenting your product, make sure you communicate that you understand the difference between volume of data and value of data that has been curated.

Disruptive Technology, 1934-Style

Pioneer Zephyr.jpg

What an unexpected pleasure to see one of my “must see” items earlier this month while I was in Chicago for an ACHE Exam Committee meeting.  My wife and I stayed for an extra day and visited the terrific Museum of Science and Industry where the first thing we saw upon entering was the famous Pioneer Zephyr train that revolutionized rail travel. I had seen pictures of this beautiful train for years but didn’t know it is still around.

The year was 1934, and conventional locomotives – “iron horses” – were heavy and slow. But on May 24, a new Art Deco-style train left Denver for a record-breaking trip to Chicago, cutting the time almost in half to just over 13 hours. Historians credit the Pioneer Zephyr with revitalizing the train travel industry and boosting the streamlining craze.  

In a sense, the designers of Pioneer Zephyr didn’t invent anything new. Instead, they combined four other breakthrough technologies in a way that no one else had before. These four were:

  • Using a diesel-electric motor

  • Replacing heavy iron with light-weight aluminum

  • Applying principles of streamlining

Designing cars with shared undercarriage wheels, reducing the number of wheel trucks and saving considerable weight.

The result was an ultra-sleek train weighing only about one-eighth as much as a comparable conventional train. Incredibly, the diesel engine was able to pull the four full-sized train cars with an output of only 600 horsepower. (As a point of reference, that’s less than the 2019 C7 Corvette’s 650 horsepower motor.) But by combining diesel technology with lightweight aluminum, streamlining principles, and an innovative undercarriage structure, the designers were able to upend an industry and relegate steam locomotives to the history books.

This is typical of many technology disruptions. Some innovations are true ground-up breakthroughs, but many of the most significant breakthroughs involve tapping into other innovative technologies and applying them in revolutionary ways. Apple didn’t invent the mobile phone or the tablet, but it figured out the critical functional and customer-desired elements that propelled those devices to the must-have category.

Developers of health-related apps aren’t reinventing the Internet, using new IT communications protocols, or creating brand new devices. Instead they’re using the smartphones and tablets patients already have, identifying a legitimate need, and applying these existing technologies in creative and cost-effective ways.

I tell my clients that, individually, no breakthrough is such a blockbuster that it will single-handedly totally transform the healthcare system. Because of the Pioneer Zephyr, train travel in the 1940s bore little resemblance to its 1930 counterpart. Similarly, with hundreds and even thousands of successful health tech innovations introduced each year, the healthcare system of 2028 may look totally different from today’s. I consider it an honor to be playing a small role in helping bring exciting breakthroughs to the market.

May you and your family experience all of God’s blessings during this special season and in 2019.

Expert Panel Weighs In On Value-Based Reimbursement

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of moderating a panel on Value-Based Reimbursement (VBR) at the Georgia HIMSS annual conference. Panelists were:

  • Mary G. Gregg, MD, FACS, MHA – Enterprise Director, CareSource

  • Raymond Snead, Jr., D.Sc., FHFMA, FACHE – long-time CFO/CEO who recently served as Interim CEO at Grant Memorial Hospital, Petersburg, WV

  • Barry S. Herrin, FAHIMA, FHIMSS, FACHE, Esq. – Founder, Herrin Health Law, PC

GA HIMSS Oct 2018 Panel Cropped.jpg

Here are some of the highlights from our lively interchange:

  • There has been little true progress toward containing healthcare expenditures despite decades of trying various approaches including HMOs, PPOs, DRGs, ACOs, CON, and other efforts.

  • For the most part, VBR amounts to transferring risk to providers and does little to truly improve care.

  • Each party in the healthcare equation has a different definition of “value.” Patients want the most care for the least amount of money. Payers and employers want to pay providers as little as possible. Providers want to be adequately compensated for the care they deliver.

  • By and large, VBR does not allow for variability in patient differences, including the extent to which they follow good health practices and adhere to suggested care guidelines. Chronic illnesses represent a huge part of health status and medical costs. Patients can do more to improve their health and, thereby, help moderate costs through better lifestyle choices and compliance with care guidelines.

  • Technology can help identify and address health and, therefore, tamp down coats. However, some organizations merely throw new technology or an app at a problem without adequately defining it or developing a comprehensive plan to address root cause issues.

  • Hospitals must get physician involvement from the very beginning whenever proposing a change in medical practice or adopting new technology. Walking three-quarters of the way through a process and then inviting physicians into the discussion guarantees failure.

  • The days of considering data security as an afterthought are over. Ironclad practices must be baked in from Day One.

  • We need better analytics for identifying and tracking the 20% of patients who require the greatest level of care.

  • Patient mental health issues contribute greatly to total costs but are not being effectively addressed.

  • Cost coverage is being relegated to a smaller and smaller percentage of patients with insurance policies that fully cover the cost of care. As the number of plans covering costs dwindles, in order to stay in business, hospitals continue to shift more and more costs to those with more adequate plans. This effectively makes hospitals taxing agencies.

  • With increasing pressures from all sides, physicians are burning out faster than ever before.

  • Innovation is not being rewarded within the current delivery and payment system.

  • Amazon and others outside the traditional healthcare arena may be the source of truly disruptive innovation.

You can see the conversation went well beyond just VBR since all these issues covered interlock. The overall consensus was that the enormous complexities of the healthcare system make it impossible for a single approach like VBR to “tame the cost beast.”