Boy, I never thought I’d have such a love-hate relationship with a word as I do this one: expectations.
It’s been a long, hard summer in my world. We’ve been buried in Meaningful Use software upgrades and a rush of new practices starting up.
Who said all the small practices are selling to the hospital systems? Not in my neck of the woods! We usually start up one or two practices a year. We’re on #6 this year and they keep calling, and they all want to be open in three months. But I digress …
I started this summer with great anticipation of MU product releases. Although I knew that the upgrades would be arduous, what I didn’t anticipate fully was the varying degrees of expectations — met and unmet — around these upgrades.
My greatest expectation was that our clients would be thrilled with over 450 new features and functionality in their software. So thrilled, in fact, that they would embrace all the free training we offered and be enthusiastic at upgrade. We delivered a fully certified MU product in time for them to attest for Phase 1 this year if they desired. I was confident we met their expectations, in spades!
Suffice it to say that we met our own expectations of what we thought they wanted. But in the end, everyone had different expectations and perceptions of how this would play out.
In our experience, doctors expected us to provide an amazing product and it would just work. They wouldn’t have to learn anything new, even though it did a gazillion new things. Practice administrators expected their staff to participate in the training we provided and sign off when they actually did it. What we found is many signed off and never really did the work. When we showed up post-upgrade, they were lost and expected us to do training on the spot while we were troubleshooting technical issues.
Everybody in the practice had differing expectations and it was our challenge to meet them all.
Our own expectations of how our software vendor would handle their product release and ensuing support was the surprise of the summer. I have been doing medical practice software support and consulting for 11 years now and it hasn’t all been wine and roses. We expected reduced response for our support cases since our vendor was as overwhelmed as we were, but they didn’t leave us hanging.
They even pulled off a few miracle saves. A big was bug found at our favorite client’s office, a show-stopper that brought them to their knees. The developers fixed it in 48 hours.
Of course, the doctor’s expectation was that the code should haven been rewritten before end of business the same day it was found. I was praising the 48-hour miracle and she was complaining that it took so long. Our expectations were clearly out of alignment.
Just when I realized the toll this was taking on my staff and our clients, I was moved by the HIStalk post by Ed Marx on 8/17/11 titled Connect. This article motivated me to take action — first with myself and my staff, then with our customers.
It was posted the day before our quarterly user group, an informal meeting with all of our customers to check in, share ideas, and work together towards solutions. We were all feeling a little ragged from the first round of upgrades. Customers still waiting to be upgraded were anxious.
I started the meeting by sharing Ed’s discussion of compassion. It really touched a nerve (I still had a few left). It helped me refocus on what our intentions are. We are here to help providers and their staffs provide excellent patient care. We are not purely consultants with solutions. We are partners in the patient care they provide.
With this as the theme, I started our meeting on a different tact. I did a level-set of expectations for all of us. It was a gamble, but I spoke from the heart to my customers about the challenges we were facing, the stress of the upgrades and their reactions to the changes, and the challenges within their own practices. I showed compassion for myself, my staff, and most of all, for our customers. How the interruptions of software changes often take their focus off caring for their patients while they battle data entry in their EHR.
They shared the same. It was transformative. We found commonality in purpose and compassion for each other.
We have continued to soldier on through the remaining upgrades. We continue to remind ourselves that compassion for the role and position of everyone involved is the key to getting through stressful encounters when they arise.
Did I mention that my Outlook crashed this summer during all this stress? I guess my expectation that this awesome piece of software can hold an unlimited amount of data (48,385 messages in fact) in a .pst file was unrealistic. Luckily, I have a compassionate engineer on board who took pity on me and didn’t berate me (too much) for not deleting more than three emails a day for the past nine years, and not launching our mail server years ago! We are currently planning a migration and setting appropriate expectations, because you never know how these things will go.
It’s been a great summer. I’ve learned to set clear expectations and practice doing so with compassion, every day. Thanks, Ed!
Julie McGovern is CEO of Practice Wise, LLC.