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Inspiring Ourselves

Hiker celebrating

Imagine you are in a position where you are expected to help people change unhealthy habits or otherwise maladaptive behavior. You're not expected to be a miracle worker, but you want to make a difference. Finding effective ways to help these people is important to you. Now, let's make the problem a little harder: the people you're expected to help know that it's in their best interest to change; they've known for some time. Many have made prior attempts to change and have been discouraged by their results.

You are not in an enviable position. It may be even worse than it seems. The very people you are expected to help might see you or what you have to say as being threatening to their sense of self-worth and become defensive. What can you do to help them change?

A recent study points to a simple and inexpensive technique that you might consider. In the field of positive psychology it is called self-affirmation. It works like this:

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The Alien in My Neck

Measuring blood pressure

In director Ridley Scott's iconic 1979 sci-fi horror film "Alien", a rather gruesome, extra-terrestrial creature suddenly and violently bursts from the chest of a crew member on a deep space mission—a scene as vividly unforgettable as it was unexpected.

A few months ago, I had a somewhat similar experience ... albeit mine occurred in an outpatient surgery center, and the circumstances were a bit less dramatic. Let me explain.

Last summer, I attended our annual wellness screening event at work. Happily, all my lab values—glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc., as well as my blood pressure—were in favorable ranges. My wellness "Health Score" was excellent! Even so, in the months after the screening I had a recurring impression that I should get an annual medical exam with my primary care physician. After initially resisting the impression, I finally set the appointment.

As I fully expected, the outcome of my exam was very positive: no health issues or presenting conditions. "Fit as a fiddle." Then, just before ending the exam, the doctor decided to check my neck. "Oh ... you have a mass on your thyroid. Pretty large, actually." I had no idea.

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Care Options for the Frail Elderly

Mother and daughter

While at the California Dialysis Conference last week, I attended a thought-provoking session with a panel discussion between three medical directors from the largest dialysis organizations in the U.S. – Davita, Fresenius and U.S. Renal: Dr. Allen Nissenson, Dr. Dinesh Chatoth and Dr. Stan Lindenfeld, respectively. These physicians grappled with many issues affecting dialysis patients nationwide.

As the topic turned towards the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) goal to have alternative payment models implemented in 80 percent of the Medicare population by the year 2020, the trio discussed the benefits of the new renal Accountable Care Organization (ESCO), including the unquestionable benefit of providing integrated care for patients with kidney disease. While these doctors agree that cost savings are an ultimate driver, by providing comprehensive services including palliative care, our medical community will be able to provide an alternative to dialysis and have painfully honest conversations about the benefits and challenges of treatment, particularly for the frail elderly. Surprisingly, at least to me, frailty has a medical definition. Frailty is identified when a patient meets three out of five criteria: weight loss (10 or more pounds within the past year), muscle loss, a feeling of fatigue, slow walking speed and low levels of physical activity. With aging frailty comes naturally; patients over 75 represent our largest growing segment with chronic kidney disease – the precursor to kidney failure.

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Achieving a Work-Life Balance—is it Possible?

Man throwing papers

I have felt at many times my balance between work and life has been out of sync. I think it is something most people experience at one time or another during their working years; struggling to maintain balance between work, home and everything else.

Jeff Davidson, an expert in work-life balance, said, "Work-life balance is the ability to experience a sense of control and to stay productive and competitive at work while maintaining a happy, healthy home life with sufficient leisure. It's attaining focus and awareness, despite seemingly endless tasks and activities competing for your time and attention."

If you're finding it more challenging than ever to juggle the demands of work and the rest of your life, you're certainly not alone. We all need some breathing space each day with time to enjoy life, while still feeling a sense of accomplishment at our jobs. Perhaps the following will help bring a little more balance to your daily routine:

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Football Lessons on Leadership from Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning

I had the privilege of being in attendance at the annual conference of the Health Information Management System Society (#HIMSS16) in Las Vegas a few weeks ago when Super Bowl Champion Peyton Manning gave the closing keynote address. He shared insightful personal stories that resonated with health care transformation, involving leadership and teamwork. His perspective as a leader on the football field can help us as we consider what it takes to be successful teams and leaders in health care today.

He started by sharing that he felt that he could relate to the crowd of Health IT professionals in the room: "both football and health care require leadership in a world that spins on an axis and is constantly throwing hurricanes at us." He explained that the new word for nimble is pivot. He said "Pivot is the ability to change strategy without changing or losing the vision; being nimble to take whatever is thrown at you."

He shared how it felt to be learning on the run as he started out in the NFL. Peyton humbly shared that he set the single season record for most interceptions by a rookie quarterback. He joked that he is "still pulling for someone to break that record!"

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The Upstream Parable: What’s High School Graduation Got to do With it?

Classroom desks

I come from a background in public health where the upstream parable is often used to discuss the importance of prevention. The parable goes something like this:

A medical professor and his student are walking together along a river. As they walk, they discover a drowning man. The student immediately jumps in to save him. Farther along, a woman is drowning. Again, the student jumps in while the medical professor stands and watches. They continue walking and encounter two more people drowning in the river. Once again, the student dives in to save the people, and he barely survives with his own life. The professor just continues walking along the river.

Exhausted and infuriated, the student confronts the professor and asks, "Why didn't you help me? Those people were dying, and I barely made it out alive!" The professor keeps walking and says, "I'm going upstream to see why all these people are falling in the river."

Soon enough, the professor and student come across a bridge. People need the bridge to get to their farmlands across the river, but they are falling into the river because the bridge is in poor condition. The professor sets to work repairing the bridge.

Last October, the HealthInsight Management Corporation Board of Directors, and the respective Boards in each state, voted on a series of True North Measures to guide the work of the organization. The boards selected high school graduation rates as a True North Measure. This is an example of an upstream measure as there is a clear association between educational attainment and future success and health status.

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HealthInsight Embarking with Lean to Propel the Boat Forward

Crew Rowing

Recently, I've been enjoying a book called "The Boys in the Boat," which is the story of nine Americans who beat the odds and found hope in desperate times in their quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The crewman in this story worked hard to improve their technique and effort to be successful. Speaking of the magnitude of the effort, the book mentions "Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race—the Olympic standard—takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes." The rowing techniques of "catch," "leg drive," "layback," "release" and "feather," if not performed precisely, can cause the rower to "crab out" which, embarrassingly, might throw him from the boat. In addition to their individual efforts, a crew needs to find a rhythm as a team – the "swing" as they call it. They seek to combine efforts into one smoothly working machine.

As with rowing, so it is in our work process, there is no substitute for hard work in the office. We also are continuously seeking to fine-tune both our individual processes and our team processes. HealthInsight has expertise in human factors, causal analysis, and the Model for Improvement, and these are the basis of much of our improvement, training and work. Recently, HealthInsight has begun looking at lean as a model of efficiency for both team processes and individual processes – we are just beginning our lean journey. We have been focused on seeking value by reducing waste in our company processes. For example, our communications department is looking to streamline multiple newsletters to increase value for our external and internal customers, and to enhance processes and delivery methods in order to become more efficient and leaner in our work. They are implementing lean principles such as just in time production and elimination of waste.

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Refocusing Your Business Strategy

Man looking through binoculars

Often we are so caught up in our day-to-day routine, we lose focus of our project goals. Three years ago, I began working at HealthInsight as the Admissions and Transitions Optimization Program (ATOP) director, fulfilling one of my professional ambitions to be part of health care policy decision making. Initially, you could not contain the excitement I had about the ATOP program and the development of an ironclad strategy with the help of my business associates motivated by the outcomes we hoped to achieve. Detailed steps were identified to achieve those outcomes. All was good until one day I discovered that some of the targeted goals for ATOP had not been reached. We had been successful, but could we have progressed more? Maybe we set our sights too high? Did we take the wrong path at the fork in the road? Then I had an epiphany. I needed to reflect, research, refocus and redirect.

It was time to take a pause and retrace my steps. It was time to REFLECT.As part of my reflection, I also reviewed the literature on "goal-setting". There are multiple reasons for not reaching your goals, whether they are work-minded or personal in nature. One of the first techniques I came across was the use of S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. This term was familiar to me because I use this formula for setting annual employee goals. After reviewing the original ATOP program goals, I felt that all of these measures had been considered. Article after article about goal-setting revealed multiple reasons for not achieving goals: unrealistic expectations, conflicting goals, procrastination, too challenging, incorrect goals, too many goals and not reviewing progress. In the case of ATOP, the two reasons that stood out for me as potential culprits were "being too specific" and "not setting the correct goals".

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Providing Practice Transformation in Nevada and Utah

Doctor and Nurse Charting

The future of independent practices remains uncertain, except for one truth—change. Across the nation, some practices have been bought by integrated systems and many others have signed up with Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), all of which offer a wide array of services. HealthInsight continues to educate providers in our community about their options, as alternative payment models through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) emerge. We are committed that they make the best decisions for their practices and their patients.

As opportunities arise, HealthInsight will facilitate introductions with ACOs and/or Practice Transformation Networks. ACOs may utilize some of HealthInsight's experienced staff to supply onsite technical assistance as practices prepare to start Medicare Shared Savings Programs in 2017. (See recent blog by Sharon Donnelly)

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Doctors are Lazy

Doctor with Patient

I just read an article in Medical Economics by William M. Gilkison, MD, an older physician, entitled, "Opinion: Doctors are lazy". He pointed out that patients complain to him that physicians have very little contact with them during exams: they come in for five minutes and leave. Some physicians even tell patients that they can only discuss one problem at each visit. Certainly, if the physician was the patient, he or she would not tolerate being treated in this manner. What if he or she had diabetes with a comorbidity such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease or depression?

Practicing good medicine dictates that all medical problems should be addressed at the visit and it will take more than five minutes. Years ago I might have agreed with the author, but now I'm not so sure. Over time, as more and more physicians became employed by hospitals, insurance companies and large groups, they began to feel pressured to see more and more patients. Then, as they all began using electronic health records (EHRs), they found that they needed to collect more data for others – insurances and government (including the Physician Quality Reporting System - PQRS, meaningful use, and prescriptions by computer only). It seemed that every time they turned around, there seemed to be more time-consuming tasks that they were expected to do.

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