What Kind of Ham Do You Use in Your Washing Machine?

Less-than-perfect language skills can get you in trouble.  Technology companies and others selling to hospitals and other healthcare providers sometimes get derailed without realizing that it’s partly because they don’t know the correct “speak” of the industry.

Even though language flubs can mess you up, they often add humor to your day.  Back in college, I spent a wonderful semester studying in Madrid, Spain.  In order to maximize our cultural and linguistic immersion, Syracuse University had us live with Spanish families, many of whom had limited English skills.  So we were forced to plow new linguistic turf every day. 

We were always messing up conversations, and it was great fun to share our language blunders with our classmates.  One day Barbara, a fellow student, came to class giggling over a question she asked her host “mother” the evening before.  “What kind of ham do you use in your washing machine?” she had asked.  She was trying to determine which laundry detergent her family used.  After she got a totally blank stare from the lady of the house, Barbara realized she had mixed up the words for “soap” (jabón) and “ham” (jamón).

As Executive Vice President at Georgia Hospital Association for over 19 years, part of my responsibilities included meeting with outside companies seeking GHA’s endorsement and assistance in promoting their service to our membership.  I could usually tell within five minutes whether the person in front of me was familiar with the hospital world or not.  Seeing a document referring to “HIPPA” spelled with two “P”s instead of two “A”s was usually a dead giveaway – sort of the like the “jamón/jabón” thing.  Or they might confuse DRGs and CPT codes.

Because most healthcare professionals at all levels are highly trained in their respective disciplines (whether clinical or administrative), they place high value on knowledge and expertise.  Depending on the nature of your business, you may be at a disadvantage without hospital or medical experience.  The climate is more forgiving if your product is strictly business-oriented instead of medical, but knowing the landscape is always advantageous.

So what do you do if you’re not clinical or are new to healthcare?  Two things:

  • Don’t try to bluff your way through a conversation, pretending you understand the science behind your product or service if you don’t.  You will be sniffed out.  If you are unsure about how to use clinical terms, you are better off not pretending you do.

  • At the same time, don’t apologize for yourself.  Recognize that you may have a slight handicap, but make sure you can point to solid clinical expertise elsewhere in your organization.  You will never sell a medically-based product or service to a hospital or physician without solid research and medical support behind your offering.  You don’t personally have to have detailed clinical insights, but be sure to stress the expertise that resides elsewhere in your organization.

Rest assured that over time you will learn the difference between laundry detergent and ham.