Systemic Complexity in Service Creates More, Well, Complexity

People are having serious difficulty understanding the selection/purchasing process for vital products/services.

Exhibit A: The subprime mortgage meltdown (hold on to your 401ks ladies and gents -we'll revisit the issue in Q3 of '08).

Housing is one of the biggest investments we can make, and some of us are bumbling it in our semi-blind pursuit of the American Dream -accepting more risk than we can reasonably afford with ARMS and negative amortization plans.

Exhibit B: A hospital stay.

This isn't yet a right (still a privilege for those who can pay except for "emergency" care), but it will be interesting to see how politicos in the coming year frame healthcare for all. If the founding fathers wanted to tack something else onto the Constitution, it might read life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the pursuit of health. Our physical/mental/spiritual health influences every aspect of our lives, and yet most of us are woefully out of touch with how to keep our bodies tuned up and running like a well-oiled machine.

What do the mortgage market and the H/HC market have in common?

If you look at the two markets on a conceptual level, similarities emerge.

First, both are services we undoubtedly need. And there are plenty of providers for those with money to spend.

Second, both the mortgage lender and the hospital may 'talk' consumers into products and services based on a one-size-fits all approach that doesn't suit the needs of each individual.

Third, both industries are under fire. Some point the finger of responsibility for crisis at the lenders and hospital systems, some comment that consumers aren't taking enough responsibility for the weight of their own choices. Both observations are partly correct.

The reality is that there's plenty of blame to go around, and blaming is usually an exercise in futility. Yes, these systems have problems - big ones. Yes, consumers need to take more responsibility for educating themselves about the choices they make. Yes, providers must take on additional time/expense burdens related to creating a more knowledgeable, informed base of customers.

Can you educate all consumers all the time and expect each to make logical decisions prior to purchasing? Heck no...not in theory, and certainly not when it comes to hot ticket items like homes and health. However, it also doesn't mean you stop trying.

Complex services and markets require complex solutions. Hospitals don't have an invisible hand of oversight similar to that of the Federal Reserve which pulls market-controlling strings, although The Joint Commission is certainly trying to achieve similar lofty status.

So what to do? Educate, educate, educate.

Make information available to your consumers. Have staff dedicated to shepherding them through the process. If I was an MBA student right now interested in a healthcare career, I'd seriously consider a business plan for outsourced patient advocate corps that could be replicated at hospitals nationwide (if anyone's interested, let me know - this is a concept I'd love to flesh out). Read this great post by Dr. Malpani, aka The Patient's Doctor, for one idea of how to bring this concept from page to stage.

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