Written by Dr Frank Tucker

The hype that you may receive from a salesperson concerning your next purchase of health information technology will likely promise more than it can deliver. They may even claim that it can make you run faster, jump higher, look better… Really? Have health information technology sales become that shallow? Well, I don’t really think they have. I feel the book, The Real Business of It, How CIOs Create and Communicate Value, by Richard Hunter and George Westerman really resonates with what I believe the health information technology community communicates to the functional owners of technology value. I hear it all the time from sale’s people…“if you virtualize your hardware, you will become more productive.” My question to the salesperson is, “how will it help me deliver better health care for patients?” This is about the time you can see the salesperson doing a bit of tap dancing. However, if you think about it…that’s the outcome I’m looking for…better health outcomes. So if you cannot connect the dots from virtualization to better patient outcomes, you don’t have a resonating value proposition. Allow me to provide a real world example, as a patient.

Like 45 million other Americans, I suffer from headaches. My headache is nothing special. It is the type that accounts for 90% of those headaches American’s suffer from, which are tension-type and/or migraine. In fact, about 10 million visits to healthcare providers a year are because of similar headaches, which result in 157 million lost workdays a year. Over the years, I’ve tried a number of treatments however, what I really wanted was something more naturopathic. That is, I didn’t want to take medications. I wanted to be able to change my lifestyle that contributes to or triggers my headaches. So I tried acupuncture. It was very relaxing and after the treatment, I felt great. However, it didn’t take care of my headache. When asked, if I would return for additional treatments and my answer was, “no.” The provider was perplexed because it was apparent I felt better. I then explained to him that my purpose for seeking treatment was to get rid of headaches. Although acupuncture was great, it did not serve the purpose for which I had paid the money, invested my time and committed resources. In other words, I didn’t get the outcome I was looking for.

I wasn’t done with my pursuit yet. I then tried massage therapy. I had heard a number of successful cases anecdotally and from the masseuse. The masseuse told me that I hold my stress in my shoulders and neck. By releasing the muscle tension, my headache would go away. The masseuse explained that she had seen a number of similar cases, which resolved with massage therapy. After an hour, I couldn’t believe how wonderful I felt. The setting was serene, the music was calming and the experience was most relaxing. I loved it. However, it didn’t take care of my headache. I had the same conversation with the masseuse as I’d had with the acupuncturist. To the masseuse’s dismay, I would not be returning, although I loved the treatment, because it didn’t result in the outcome I was pursuing.

Lastly, I’m trying chiropractic care. At the chiropractor I heard similar stories about how I hold my stress in my shoulders and neck resulting in my headache. However, the chiropractor informed me that the cause of my headache was due to spinal alignment and my poor posture. This resulted in muscle tension, which then resulted in my headache.

It was one of the most frightening experiences that I had. A sudden movement and you can feel and hear your bones “crack” down your spine. Interestingly enough, after the chiropractic treatment was done there was a feeling of “release.” I’m not sure quite how to describe it, but I did feel as though there was more fluidity in my motion. However, my headache was still there. Before I had a chance to say anything he said that I would need several more treatments this for a week and after the 3rd adjustment, my headaches should be relieved. He also suggested some stretching exercises and improved posture when sitting at my desk to prevent this type of tension. So, I’m willing to continue the treatments as directed and at the end of the 3rd session to assess if indeed the outcome is what I’m looking for…headache resolution. The difference between the two cases above and the chiropractor is that he also suggested a number of lifestyle changes, which probably significantly reduces contributing factors as part of the chiropractic care. Even if spinal adjustment had nothing to do with improvement, the outcome would be what I’m looking for. Therefore, it would be a success in my eyes and thus worth the investment.

So, going back to the world of information technology, it doesn’t matter that this is the fastest, coolest, most future proof technology. It doesn’t matter that it’s elastic, scalable, and affordable or any other descriptive you want to throw in. What matters is, did it meet the outcome for which you invested money, time, or other resources? To do that, you have to know what your customer is looking to get out of that health information technology. Better quality care? Lower health care costs? Better patient health? Better protection from health threats? Better health care access? Once you understand the desired health outcome of your customer, align your health information technology approach to demonstrate tangible and visible benefits in delivering that value rather than the features of that technology. You will be amazed how your solutions may change and in some cases, technology might not be the answer at all.