The Need for “Precision” Definitions

by | Mar 14, 2017

ambiguityHealthcare is a study in extremes.  On the precise end of the continuum, we have the surgical precision of the neurosurgeon’s scalpel and the micro-precision of genomic studies.  On the not-even-close-to-precise opposite end of the continuum, we have the very elements that frame our industry’s care models and Population Health Management (PHM) processes, including health information technology (HIT) tools.

When I say PHM, what comes to mind?   How about data analytics?   Let’s try transition of care.  Patient engagement device.   Super utilizers.  You get the picture.   I could poll the first 50 readers of this blog and get 50 different  interpretations; yet, these are ridiculously common terms.

Our healthcare industry is massive, widely distributed, and ever changing.  While government and private sector bodies have attempted to define core concepts, the reality is there will not be widely-understood precise definitions for so many of the terms we use every single day in our conversations with one another.

Demonstrating the significance of this problem, various organizations in the industry striving for increased clarity often call upon us at Chilmark Research to educate and define the more ambiguous concepts and terms in formal sessions for their Strategy, Product Development, and Sales Teams.

Ambiguity is the Foe of Excellence

Besides personal communication frustrations, this lack of common understanding on assumed definitions has significant business impact.

Time is lost in the product development life cycle, the sales cycle, and during solution implementations when work needs to be restarted, oftentimes due to poorly-defined terms and concepts which in turn result in misaligned goals.   This malady grows exponentially with implementations that occur in repeat stages.

A lost-time example outlined by my colleague, Chilmark Research analyst Janice Young, in her recent report, Provider-Payer Convergence:  The Pulse of Disruption, “One provider working to incorporate payer data into its at-risk VBC environment described a year-long effort simply to understand the data and reference vocabulary that each health plan used.”

Client satisfaction and retention suffer when gaps occur between client expectations vs. the final product built and sold, often attributable to ill-defined terms and objectives at the start of a project.

And, sadly, consumer clinical outcomes suffer when solutions deliver sub-optimal results, again due to lack of definition-setting that can cause product development strategies to go astray.

Recommendations for HIT Vendors, Providers, Payers, and all Industry Stakeholders

  • Assume at the start that you and your conversation partner are referring to terms differently; be pleasantly surprised if you confirm that you are in lock step
  • Launch Product Development sessions and debrief internally after client/vendor encounters by initially level setting on how all parties are defining terms and expectations.
  • Include a formal step at the start of project management plans, to define terms, concepts, tools, and data fields, even the most basic ones.
  • Educate your Product and Sales Teams to understand the variety of definitions that exist in the market for certain key terms and concepts.
  • Empower these Teams to confidently clarify with prospects at the beginning, middle, and end of conversations as needed, both verbally and in writing, to ensure all parties have a shared understanding of meanings and intentions.


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