Thursday, September 6, 2007

Party Games

At some point in your life you may have played this old-fashioned party game:

  • Ten people are lined up in a row.

  • The first person whispers a fairly complex sentence into the second person's ear.

  • The second person whispers the same message into the third person's ear.

  • The whispering continues down the line until the last person in line recites the message to everyone else in the room -- as he has heard it.

Think of your role as the original source of data being entered into a chain of communication. Now, just for kicks, try playing a few games of "telephone call" with your professional colleagues. Was the final message delivered to the group exactly the same as the message which started its way down the information chain?

Probably not.

In most situations, the message was altered by the time it reached the final link in the chain of communication. Why? Because humans are not always as precise as they'd like to think they are. People frequently misinterpret, misunderstand, or try to edit or "enhance" the words and thoughts that have been presented to them.

Let's pretend that the ten people playing our "telephone call" party game represent the various members of the patient care team. Some of these members are familiar and readily visible to you (nurses, orderlies, your office staff, and fellow physicians). Others (coders, claims processors, lab technicians, medical record personnel, and medical transcriptionists) may be completely invisible to you.

These "knowledge workers" are an integral part of the patient care team. For better or worse, their input can have a dramatic effect on patient care for the simple fact that they are involved in generating and storing data about the patient. If the data is misinterpreted, miscoded, or miskeyed, the results can be quite unfortunate.

Sometimes those results are not easily remedied.

Next: Process Is Everything

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