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    Entries in health care (10)


    #HRHappyHour LIVE Tonight - 'HR and Health Care Reform'

    Now that 2013 is in full swing, your thoughts as an HR and Talent Pro can only be turning to one thing - Health Care Reform!

    I kid, but only a little.  Whether you call it Obamacare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or just Health Care Reform, chances are it will impact your organization and your employees in 2013, and it might be equally likely you don't really know enough of what you need to know about these changes.

    Well my friends, as you start your 2013 HR and Talent trip into the forest of Health Care Reform, you are not alone. The HR Happy Hour Show is back with you as well, with our latest live show of 2013, tonight, Thursday January 17th at 8:00PM ET.

    You can listen to the show live tonight at 8:00PM on the show page here - on the listener line 646-378-1086, or on the widget player below. Also, you can participate on the show backchannel on Twitter - hashtag #HRHappyHour.

    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio



    And, if for some reason you miss the show live, you can always catch the replay on the show page, or on iTunes - just search the podcasts section for 'HR Happy Hour.'

    Joining us to talk the about the upcoming changes and challenges presented by Health Care Reform will be returning guest and friend of the show Jennifer Benz, CEO of Benz Communications; and John Barkett of Extend Health, and one of the original authors and implementers of the legislation that became known as Obamacare.

    And of course riding shotgun with me will be the HR Ringleader herself, HR executive Trish McFarlane.  

    We will be taking about and taking your calls on:

    What are the most important aspects of HCR that you as an HR pro need to know?

    How does HCR and its implications and demands differ across company size?

    What key communications messages and strategies do you need to consider when keeping your employees informed?

    What does the medium and longer term look like in the world of employer-sponsored benefits?

    Where can the HR and Talent pro go to learn more?

    These questions and more will be answered on the next episode of the HR Happy Hour Show - LIVE tonight at 8:00PM.

    I hope you can join us tonight, it should be a fun and informative show!


    Bad Habits, Pressure, and Results

    We might argue about the best way to get there, but certainly at this point you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the Human Resources, Benefits, or Talent Management space that has not firmly bought in to the importance of employee wellness.

    The arguments in support of the organization actively promoting more healthy behaviors in and out of the workplace are familiar and numerous - increased productivity, reduced health care costs, less absenteeism, and more. And forget about the data - it just makes sense intuitively that when people make consistently better choices about diet, exercises, taking routine physical exams, and simply being more conscious about their health; then they will be happier, feel better, and will do better at work and in the community.

    Sure, there are (valid) differences in opinion about the most effective employer wellness strategies and the proper role of the organization in what are often employee's personal matters and decisions, but overall, it seems to be little argument about the ultimate goals - a healthier, higher-performing workforce. And while the strategies, programs, and solutions might differ, there are still some basics in the employee wellness discussion that most all employers do agree on, particularly when it comes down to some basic human behavioral choices and habits that from decades of study have been shown to be incredibly harmful and detrimental to health; with tobacco use being the obvious example.

    Whether it's cigarettes, chew, dip, maybe even cigars - we know we don't want our employees partaking, either at work or in their personal lives, the risks are too high, the costs are too great - essentially nothing good results from employee tobacco use.

    Unless of course the ramifications of quitting tobacco use are too high.

    What? How can that even make sense?

    Check this piece from ESPN.com, about the Texas Rangers baseball star Josh Hamilton, his decision to quit chewing tobacco during the season, and the subsequent reactions from team management. From the ESPN piece:

    Rangers' CEO Nolan Ryan said the timing of Josh Hamilton's decision to quit smokeless tobacco this summer "couldn't have been worse."

    "You would've liked to have thought that if he was going to do that, that he would've done it in the offseason or waited until this offseason to do it," Ryan said during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Galloway and Company" this week. "So the drastic effect that it had on him and the year that he was having up to that point in time when he did quit, you'd have liked that he would've taken a different approach to that."

    Hamilton, who began his quest to quit dipping in late June, admitted in August that he was dealing with a "discipline" issue and said it was discipline at the plate and discipline in "being obedient to the Lord in quitting chewing tobacco."

    His struggle with tobacco coincided with the one at the plate. After earning AL player of the month honors in April and May, Hamilton hit .223 in June and .177 in July and had eight homers and 27 RBIs combined in those two months. He had belted 21 homers and driven in 57 RBIs in the first two months of the season combined.

    Got all that? For the non-baseball fans out there, let me break it down.

    Hamilton is an incredibly high-performer, one of the very best in the entire industry, 'top talent' so to speak. But he has some bad habits, chewing tobacco, (common among baseball players), among them. He elects to quit chewing tobacco, a decision everyone should applaud, and almost immediately his performance begins to slide. Quitting tobacco use is really hard for many, and it seems for Hamilton the side effects and strain it put on him personally negatively impacted his job performance. Then after the season concludes, and the Rangers fail to advance in the playoffs, the team CEO, Ryan, publicly questions perhaps not Hamilton's choice to quit chewing tobacco, but certainly the timing of the choice.

    Essentially the CEO is saying - 'Quit your bad, unhealthy habits on your own time, we need to win ballgames here.'

    Maybe this is another one of those classic 'sports are not the real world' kinds of stories, and it is not a big deal, nor applicable to 'normal' workplaces and jobs and I should not bother posting about it. But I suspect there might be more relevance than we might see at first look.

    Baseball is not the only business with lots of pressure, deadlines, and intense periods of focus followed by some relative downtime. Instead of a chase for a World Series, maybe in your organization it is a crazed rush to meet a customer deadline, to ship a product by a promised date, to get Ms. Big Shot executive ready for he speech to your industry's largest trade show. 

    Whatever the case, success usually requires everyone on the team to be at the top of their game. 

    When Hamilton made the correct decision for his health, he seems, at least in the CEO's eyes, to have made the wrong decision for the team. 

    I wonder if in similar circumstances, what you would do if you were the CEO or the Project Leader and one of your key staff, perhaps even the best and most talented employee you have, took the same kind of decision as Hamilton?

    Would you try and support and help the employee work through this process, knowing in the long run it is better for everyone? 

    Or would you pass the Copenhagen and tell everyone to focus, we have a deadline to meet?


    Innovation as a choice

    I'm just back from Taleo World 2012, (ok, I admit to being a little biased, but it was a tremendous event), and wanted to share a short bit of wisdom from one of the concurrent sessions I attended, given by WellPoint, one of the largest health benefits companies in the United States. With over 37,000 employees operating in a highly-regulated industry and with the added complexity of operating via numerous subsidiary companies, WellPoint is a classic example of the kind of large corporate environment many of us work in or have been a part of at some point in our careers.Taleo World 2012

    And what are some of the things that come to mind when thinking about working in really large, complex organizations?  

    We generally think of these corporate giants as lacking agility, with dense and difficult to traverse organization structures, a lack of drive and urgency, and at times the tendency to get consumed by process, entrenched ways of thinking, and lots of 'Not invented here' syndrome that taken together can slow or even halt innovative ideas of transformational projects even before they begin.

    While it is certainly true that as organizations get larger and more complex in structure additional rules, policies, and sometimes bureaucracies have to emerge to simply manage the processes associated with organizing that many people, across that many locations, and operating under numerous and evolving external forces and requirements, the smartest of these large organizations are not letting size, complexity and inertia impede their ability to adapt, improve, and innovate.

    And while their are reams of books, articles, seminars, and big thinkers all focused on the subject of innovation, still for large organizations, fostering innovation can be really, really hard - maybe even impossible. But during WellPoint's presentation about their purposeful and aggressive approach to reinventing their Talent Management processes, they offered one of the clearest and simplest ways to get past those legacy or inherent barriers to innovation.

    Simply put, they decided to be innovative. 

    The specific mantra their Talent Management team adopted was 'We can sit and wait, or we can choose to innovate.'

    Sure it's basic. Sure it even sounds a little naive. And yes, no one can really effect significant change by simply making a choice, but the choice itself is the start. 

    The choice to innovate becomes a conscious one that can support all the difficult decisions that have to be made in order to effect change at large organizations like WellPoint. The choice allows you, even empowers you to think about the big picture and the real reasons and benefits for the hard work you are doing. 

    The choice enables you to start to let go of the organizational baggage that often has to be dragged along with you on every new project.

    In another Taleo World presentation, Bertrand Dussert mentioned a fantastic quote from Roger Enrico -

    "Beware the tyranny of making small changes to small things."

    WellPoint's 'choice' and the Enrico quote both remind us of the importance of thinking big, not allowing the past to be a barrier to progress, and that often a simple change in mindset can be the beginning of a fantastic journey, even in the largest and most seemingly resistant to change environments.

    Thanks to everyone at Taleo World for what was a superb and inspiring event.

    Have a Great Weekend!


    Never takes a day off, follows instructions, and is more empathetic?

    I've noticed at least two things since I have gone off on my recent 'robots are going to take away all our jobs' kick. One, oddly enough my blog traffic is way up, something like 33% or so, as I seem to be getting a fair number of hits from Google searches for the word 'robot'. Which is pretty cool. So if you've found your way here looking to actually learn something about robots - how they work, their manufacturing process, or you were seeking information about Robocop or the Robot from 'Lost in Space', all I can say is 'Welcome!' and 'I apologize for possibly wasting your time.'  The second thing that I have noticed is just how many of these robot stories are out there, it is getting a little ridiculous and I swear that I am not going to great lengths or scouring obscure sources to find them.Robot - 'So, what's on your mind?'

    The latest article on the growing, (and I think concerning) trend is from the MIT Technology Review, titled 'The Virtual Nurse Will See You Now', a review of a new virtual nurse and exercise coach technology program developed at Northeastern University. The virtual nurse interacts with patients, helps them to understand their diagnoses and aftercare programs, and by virtue of some additional programming, even can engage in rudimentary small talk about sports or the weather, a capability that helps to increase patient's comfort level interacting with the virtual nurses.

    According to the MIT Technology Review piece, the virtual nurses are proving effective, with patients that had interacted with the nurse more likely to know their diagnosis and to make a follow-up appointment with their primary-care doctor than patients who had not worked with the virtual nurse. The second set of trials with overweight, sedentary adults that were exposed to the virtual exercise coach, (named Karen), were also successful, with users reported to have "checked in with Karen three times a week, while she gave them recommendations and listened to their problems. Over 12 weeks, those who talked to the coach were significantly more active than those who simply had an accelerometer to record how much they walked."

    While it's not surprising anymore to read about how robots and other automation technologies like the virtual nurses are fast becoming so advanced, powerful, and capable to the extent that they can perform more and more traditional human jobs faster, more accurately, and cheaper than us mere mortals, some of the comments in the virtual nurse piece were striking for their assessment of the need and benefits of these new tools. Here's a sampling, (but you really should read the entire piece):

    Patients who interacted with a virtual nurse named Elizabeth said they preferred the computer simulation to an actual doctor or nurse because they didn't feel rushed or talked down to.

    Dang, that's not a ringing endorsement for patient care and bedside manner of our health care professionals. But once we get more people in the field I am sure the standard and quality of care will improve. After all, health care is one of the few consistently growing career fields.

    Not so fast though, check out this quote:

    Such technologies will become increasingly important with rising health-care costs and an aging population. "We already know we don't have enough health-care providers to go around, and it's only getting worse," says Kvedar. "About 60 percent of the cost of delivering health care comes from human resources, so even if you can train more people, it's not an ideal way to improve costs."

    That doesn't sound good. When even health care, one of the most hands-on, high touch, and needs the human element to be effective, kinds of fields is under pressure to cut costs via increased automation, well that does not seem to bode well for the long term employment prospects for a field most of us have come to see as safe, secure, and even in more demand as our population ages.

    But beyond the simple automation and efficiency play here, more alarming is the idea that the virtual nurses and coaches can be seen as more understanding, attentive, and even empathetic. How can a robot or a computer actually demonstrate empathy? It's probably a question for another day, but if the robots can start beating us on empathy, well, it's going to be tough to find something else we can still do better than them.


    Missing the Health Care debate

    Some folks that know me, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook know by now that my Dad has been in the hospital for what is now going on 13 days. 

    It started, as many of these kind of cases do I have learned, with what seemed to be a cold, then a bad cold, then a fall at home, then a call to 911, and finally a diagnosis of pneumonia (along with some other assorted issues that have popped up).

    As this process has unfolded, his condition has gone up and down, probably a bit more down, as additional issues and complications have arisen in the past few days. In the course of his care, the doctors (and there have been at least five, specialists for infectious diseases, neurology, endocrinology, cardiology, and  psychiatry), and nurses have been very professional and have done their best to help both my Dad and us stay informed of what is going on in what has proven to be a complex, challenging case.

    And as the number of doctors, nurses, clinicians, specialists, and other professionals has multiplied, so have the number and frequency of tests, procedures, and medications that have been involved in his care.  There have been really too many to count among the MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, blood tests, and more in the last 13 days. In truth, my Dad's case has been extremely complex, and at times they have not been completely sure what is going on, and as such, several of the tests have been perhaps a bit speculative.

    But as this process continues on, I can't help but wonder a few things:

    One - had my Dad not had health insurance coverage in the form of some combination of Medicare and insurance from his former employer, just exactly how would all of this played out?  Would any of the decisions and approaches to his treatment actually been any different? Does everyone in his situation get the same comprehensive, and I am sure incredibly expensive care?

    Two - Is it entirely normal and expected that the actual costs of treatment are really never discussed with the patient and family?  As each test, procedure, medication, etc. have been ordered, they have been discussed with us in detail.  The goals, steps, process, potential complications are all carefully described.  But not one time has the subject of cost ever been discussed.  Should the cost of care, of each additional test or procedure be a part of the decision making process?  I imagine that the Doctors or the hospital administrators take the costs into account, but to have what has amounted to zero discussion of cost between service provider and service recipient is certainly unusual (at least to me).

    Three - These last two weeks, as the US health care reform debate, compromise, and vote has played out on the news, in the blogs, and in social networking, most of the (limited) information that I saw was primarily focused on the macro level.  The many millions of uninsured people that would now get coverage, or depending on which cable news network you prefer, the billions of dollars that would be saved, or squandered as a result of these reforms.  Big picture discussion on percentage of GDP and national obesity rates.

    But to me, what is clear as a result of what my Dad and our family is going through, is that any talk of health care reform really starts and stops at the micro level. It is about what happens when Dad or Grandma gets sick and needs intensive, expensive care, (and rehab). It is about what happens if the new baby is born weeks and weeks early.  It is about making a decision, as many people do, to stick it out in a dead-end and soul crushing job in order to cling on to a marginally decent benefits plan, because your spouse has been sick for a long time, the kind of sick that insurance types like to call a 'pre-existing condition'.

    I have been really distracted the last two weeks, talking about ventilators, CT scans, catheters, spinal taps, and blood work.  So perhaps I simply have not had the time or attention to think about the big picture, and what these reforms mean to the country, the economy, the workforce, and the next generation. For me, at least right now, these concepts are too vague, elusive, and certainly contentious to fully grasp. 

    Right now, for me, the only thing in 'reform' that I care about, is whether reform will affect my Dad's ability (and you can insert your own loved one's here), to get the needed treatment, and walk out of the hospital one day soon.

    And I suppose any reform that makes that kind of positive outcome more likely for my Dad, and your Mom, Grandpa, daughter, husband, or friend, is the kind that we can all support. 

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