Bad News? Don’t Blame the Data

Posted by Kristin Baird on June 20th, 2017 • No Comments »

It’s been decades since healthcare first began measuring patient satisfaction. And as long as there have been reports, there have been excuse-makers who blame the data. It’s an interesting phenomenon actually. When the results are lower than expected, people want to punch holes in the data. The n is too small. The sample was taken during construction, flu season or leadership transition. Some of the classic excuses – and that is exactly what they are – excuses, include: we have a lot of drug seekers, our patients expect too much, our patients are sicker, etc.

Yet when the results show high satisfaction, the data is suddenly valid and reliable. Same tool, same methodology, same population and now the data is solid. So what’s the difference? The difference is a culture that allows excuse-making vs ownership. When leaders tolerate (and sometimes fuel) excuses, it speaks volumes about a culture. If it wasn’t so annoying, it could be downright comical.

I recently listened in on a mystery shopping report prepared for a large academic medical center. In the assessment we compared phone access and appointment access across the system. During the presentation one physician and his practice manager disputed the study and the results. They argued about every aspect of the methodology, the timing, the sample – everything was wrong. Oh, and incidentally, their practice scored very poorly – far below the mean.

But wait! The data from the same study became more and more accurate as it exposed issues in other practices. The same physician who demanded a refund (seriously – I cannot make this stuff up) because the data reflected problems in his practice’s scheduling process, suddenly felt the data was accurate and actionable when focusing on others. Hmmmm

Why, after decades of reliable patient experience measures, are there still people trying to argue away the data when it doesn’t reflect well on them? Maybe it’s a personal thing. Maybe the nay-sayers never learned to accept feedback. Maybe their insecurities make them fearful or defensive. Or, maybe the culture allows the tantrums and excuses.

Is there any coincidence that you find fewer excuses and more ownership in high reliability organizations?

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Baird Consulting

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