The email conundrum

Incessant email, ugh.

The misuse of email is tremendous.  Clive Owen at Wired writes, “Everyone complains about ‘e-mail overload’ — getting so much stupid corporate e-mail that you miss out on important messages.”

Two solutions.

The more practical and organizationally implementable makes email gamelike, from Wired:

Every employee is given virtual tokens — say, 100 a week, — that they can attach to e-mail they write. If you really want someone to read a message now, you attach a lot of tokens, and the message pops up higher in your correspondent’s Outlook inbox.

Turns out, it works.  “When a work group at IBM tried [it], messages with 20 tokens attached were 52 percent more likely to be quickly opened than normal. E-mail overload ceased to be a problem.”

The second possibility is one that has been visited before, from Edward Gottesman at Prospect:

The time has come for a public sector remedy: a tax, perhaps no more than 2p, or 3c, on every email sent. Opponents will argue that collecting the tax is impossible or unfair. Yet the status quo is unworkable.

Has your organization thought about trying to reduce the amount of email?  It needlessly keeps people behind their desks or inattentive on their Blackberrys/iPhones.

Short-term Social Networks

Last week Jeff Jarvis pointed to Bluenity, a new social network for AirFrance and KLM passengers.  It’s a tremendously neat idea: interact online with other passengers on your trip, receive travel tips from the community, and meet them in person if you want.

This social network is interesting because:

  • it’s built to function around a short span of time
  • hibernation is okay; lack of activity with other social tools might get you defriended; use it only when you travel
  • it has a defined, controlled purpose
  • it’s targeted toward a defined audience
  • though not necessary for use, it facilitates/encourages in-person meet ups

Privacy concerns put aside for a minute, short-term social networks hold possibility in health care.  Patients might enjoy meeting others in the same hospital for companionship or finding support from those with similar diagnoses.  Rural hospitals could band together allowing all rural patients to connect with each other.  Or those patients being treated in academic medical centers could find others with similarly rare conditions across the country.  Or all patients in all settings could have the opportunity to interact.

Then, when the hospital stay is over, the profile would go into hibernation and be awakened only if a patient should return to the hospital.  The network could interact with other social networking tools so that friends made in the hospital could be transferred to traditional networks (e.g., Facebook).  An import option from a site like Patients Like Me might also improve functionality.

Nourishing or Nauseating?

Looking inside a refrigerator can tell a lot about a person’s eating habits.  Maybe an in-home refrigerator analysis is the key to eating healthier.  Anyway, here’s a cool project by artist Mark Menjivar featured at Good.  I expected a lot of refrigerators to look like the one below; not necessarily the case, though each refrigerator has an interesting story waiting to be told.  It seems like a good idea for a community photo sharing effort.  The contents could be analyzed by a community; (instead of hot or not) nourishing or nauseating?

But from the right vantage point, an open fridge is the perfect staging grounds for a discussion of consumption. And if the aphorism holds true—if we really are what we eat—then refrigerators are like windows into our souls. It’s that sentiment that’s at the heart of Mark Menjivar’s inventive exploration of hunger, “You Are What You Eat,” for which he photographed the contents of strangers’ refrigerators.

fridgeimage 8 Picture Show: You Are What You Eat

Nurse: You forgot to take your pill this morning

This is interesting, from The Daily Mail (UK):

Microchips in pills could soon allow doctors to find out whether a patient has taken their medication.

The digestible sensors, just 1mm wide, would mean GPs and surgeons could monitor patients outside the hospital or surgery.

The ‘intelligent’ medicine works by activating a harmless electric charge when drugs are digested by the stomach.

This charge is picked up by a sensing patch on the patients’ stomach or back, which records the time and date that the pill is digested. It also measures heart rate, motion and breathing patterns.

The information is transmitted to a patient’s mobile phone and then to the internet using wireless technology, to give a complete picture of their health and the impact of their drugs.

Doctors and carers can view this information on secure web pages or have the information sent to their mobile phones.

There’s an obvious privacy discussion here.  Furious Seasons takes a shot:

On one level, this kind of technology is fascinating and interesting for all the usual dorky techie reasons (wow, telemetry has gotten that advanced and so have transmission technologies–it’s all so very sci-fi and high tech triumphant), but on another more important level it’s downright frightening. That’s because I see this “intelligent medicine” technology as a potentially massive intrusion on individual freedom and privacy.

This example is indicative of the debate territory we are beginning to enter.  The balance between life-improving-medical-innovation and privacy is becoming more difficult to strike (well, I suppose that depends on your definition of privacy).

Via Seed.

One in eight workers in the U.S. work in health care

The Wall Street Journal had a story yesterday on how the recession is hitting health care.  In a departure from the norm during recessionary periods: some health care organizations are struggling.

Growth possibilities in the industry remain high; but, the (new) value conscious customer/consumer/patient will have a flattening effect on that growth.

Interesting; from this:

More than 16 million people — one in eight workers on U.S. payrolls — work in health care today, up from just 1% of the work force 50 years ago.

Wow! To this:

She [Kim King] and her ex-husband, a corrections officer, “used to joke that we had the most secure jobs out there, because people always need health care and prisons. It’s not true anymore,” she says. “I’ve never seen it so bad. It’s the one thing you would think wouldn’t be affected by the recession.”

To this:

“It’s a long-term shift reflecting changes in technology and what consumers want,” says Robert Fogel, a Nobel laureate and professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “Health care is the growth industry of the 21st century.”

In: Hospital Description

A completely unfiltered, no holds barred description of hospitals from Aaron Swartz’s blog (it was published waaaaaay back in 2006):

Were the large sign reading “Hospital” to go missing, one might easily mistake the facility as one for torture: men whose clothes have been replaced by dreary gowns slowly wander the halls in dreary stupor, their battered faces making them appear as if they have been badly beaten. They are not permitted to escape.

Brutal, yes.  Worth the read, yes.

Underrated? Undervalued?

How’s this for a description of an NBA All-Star: “He can’t dribble, he’s slow and hasn’t got much body control.”

That’s Shane Battier, evidently.  But here’s the kicker: he’s a good player and he makes the teams he’s played for significantly better.  From a New York Times Magazine article by Michael Lewis (of Liar’s Poker, Blindside, and Moneyball fame):

The Grizzlies went from 23-59 in Battier’s rookie year to 50-32 in his third year, when they made the N.B.A. playoffs, as they did in each of his final three seasons with the team. Before the 2006-7 season, Battier was traded to the Houston Rockets, who had just finished 34-48. In his first season with the Rockets, they finished 52-30, and then, last year, went 55-27 — including one stretch of 22 wins in a row.

Battier makes just over $6 million per year, a paltry sum compared to the superstars.  But the Houston Rockets recognized his value—or, more importantly the fact that he is undervalued by NBA standards.  The description atop the post is from Daryl Morey, the stats minded (these kind of stats) Rockets’ general manager.  And he thinks he’s onto something.

From the article:

…there is right now in pro basketball real value to new information, and the Rockets feel they have some. What he will say, however, is that the big challenge on any basketball court is to measure the right things. The five players on any basketball team are far more than the sum of their parts; the Rockets devote a lot of energy to untangling subtle interactions among the team’s elements. To get at this they need something that basketball hasn’t historically supplied: meaningful statistics. For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure — points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots — and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game.

Why Morey likes Battier:

Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly ­reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates — probably, Morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. “I call him Lego,” Morey says. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”

It’s all very interesting.  But we can’t leave it at that.  Ben Casnocha is on to my line of thinking:

…”Who’s the Shane Battier on our team?” Every organization has one.

It is true in health care, too.  Do you know who your underrated all-star is?  Is it time we start finding ways to measure value outside the traditional performance scope?  It surely would be a bad deal to learn about an individual’s value to your team because of their departure.

Undervalued health care skills?  The hard stuff.  (Tom Peters: The numbers turn out to be the “soft” stuff, abstract and subject to fudging. The “tangible,” “hard stuff” of infinite importance for performance is the depth and breadth of our relationships with others within or outside the firm.)  Especially the hard stuff (pdf).  Others?

I hate the NBA by the way, most of it having to do with a lack of players like Shane Battier.

Key to health care sustainability: no growth?

This is heretical health care thinking: what if the health care we provided today was enough (if tomorrow is a better day, we can roll with that)?  Enough in the sense that modern medicine has advanced to the point that any additional value created by continued medical research is not worth its financial cost.

The Good Blog quotes MIT Sloan School of Management professor emeritus Jay Forrester.  He says that the future business is a successful no-growth business:

“I think one of the biggest management problems is going to be to understand how to manage a successful non-growing company—and how to get out of the frame of mind that success is measured only by growth. … It’s very common to say, “If you stagnate, if you don’t grow, you will fail.” Well, that’s possible if you don’t maintain a system with proper management policies. You’ve still got to have some way to maintain vitality, to maintain some product progress, but to do it within a fixed demand on the environment. I don’t think I’ve heard of that being taught in management schools.”

Good’s Andrew Price writes:

Indeed. The idea of a no-growth business doesn’t seem to get discussed much anywhere yet. It’s great when companies buy carbon offsets or incorporate post-consumer recycled content into their products—every little bit helps—but we generally ignore the fact that there’s something inherently unsustainable about any business that has to get bigger to stay alive.

Realistically, the United States’ annual health care spend is unsustainable.  So when the dollars run out for advancing health care (assuming they do) will we accept what we have as the be-all end-all?

There may not be a choice.

Here’s the complete interview with Forrester.

Hospitals looking like hotels


Amenities such as good food, attentive staff, and pleasant surroundings may play an important role in hospital demand. We use a marketing survey to measure amenities at hospitals in greater Los Angeles and analyze the choice behavior of Medicare pneumonia patients in this market. We find that the mean valuation of amenities is positive and substantial. From the patient perspective, hospital quality therefore embodies amenities as well as clinical quality. We also find that a one-standard-deviation increase in amenities raises a hospital’s demand by 38.4 percent on average, whereas demand is substantially less responsive to clinical quality as measured by pneumonia mortality. These findings imply that hospitals may have an incentive to compete in amenities, with potentially important implications for welfare.

Hospitals as Hotels” a working paper by RAND‘s Dana Goldman and John A. Romley