Earlier in the week Ken and I were discussing the importance of asking the right question and the very next day Kathy's blog post showed up so I had to share it. If you're not familar with Kathy, she and the team at Rowell & Associates are talented healthcare experts that share our passion for the effective visual display and sharing of information. In addition to her unique combination healthcare knowledge and data visualization, she is very funny. In the spirit of full disclosure it is very hard for a Yankee Fan (me) to compliment a Red Sox Fan like Kathy; however Kathy is the exception. Enjoy her post and if you're in healthcare check out her site.
My husband Bret and I had a lively exchange the other morning about the previous night's Red Sox game. I'd gone to bed while he stayed up late watching the last few innings, so when I woke up, the first thing I asked was, "Who won?"
My question stimulated the following exchange:
"The Red Sox lost."
"I didn't ask you who lost. I asked you who won."
"It's the same thing."
"No, it isn't."
"Fine. The Los Angeles A's won. Now run far, far away, and leave me alone."
Most of this constitutes marital sport in my house, but part of the friction stems from real human frailty to which we all fall prey occasionally. Perhaps we fail to listen to or clarify the question at hand, and as a result answer incorrectly or ineffectively. We might think we know far better than the other person what (s)he really wanted to ask; so we answer that question ("Who lost the game?") instead of the one that was actually spoken ("Who won?").
The banter with Bret about the precise nature of my baseball question was inconsequential (especially since it occurred before my first cup of coffee). Our efforts to communicate healthcare data accurately and effectively are anything but. Here's what I mean.
My colleague Janet and I have had an ongoing conversation about the data and other information on PatientCareLink (PCL). We have been exploring its site, especially the section on hospital staffing plans, and we keep circling back to this: what question does the information shown answer?
First, we reviewed PCL's Mission Statement: "To deliver transparent quality and safety information from hospitals and home care agencies to patients and other healthcare stakeholders." Since this gave us a clear idea of what the group was trying to accomplish, we let it guide us as we reviewed the site and sought to answer one crucial question: do PCL data and information as they are currently displayed tell patients precisely how safe the hospitals and home health agencies listed are, and what quality of care each provides?
Here's one -- very revealing -- example of what we found.
We looked at Cooley Dickinson Hospital's Adult Surgical Orthopedic Unit Nurse Staffing Plan for 2012 compared to the actual nursing staff levels during that year, trying to answer this question: could we tell, by comparing the Plan and actual nursing levels for the year, if this Unit provided high-quality, safe care to Orthopedic patients?