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The buyer – user disconnect, aka the Shiny Object problem

Sorry, too darn busy this week to get my usual 4 or so posts in.

Had a very interesting conversation with a work comp services exec earlier this week which got me thinking about “portals” – those internet entry points where payer staff can access bills, reports, notes, alerts and other documents and messages about their claims.

Turns out portals are more shiny object than productivity enhancer…

The point the exec was making was that management always wanted to see and hear about the portal – but desk-level folks rarely used it. Adjusters and case managers preferred emails and other more direct and specific communications over logging into and clicking thru a portal to find specific information. And, user preference for direct communication was overwhelming.

The exec’s point was a lot of resources are devoted to developing, implementing, upgrading and maintaining these portals – which aren’t used by the very folks they are built for.

In a very unscientific poll, I asked a few other contacts about their customers’ use of their portals; all agreed that desk-level users didn’t use them much – if at all.

As in one out of 10 or 20 desk level folks even logged into the damn thing

There’s a critical point to be made here – the people who make buying decisions want/demand that potential vendors invest a ton of brain power and dollars into a thing that doesn’t add any value.

What does this say about payers; I’d suggest it shows a disconnect between the buyers of services and the users of those services that is rather striking – and all too common.

Let me go further – the buyers need to understand they are serving the needs of the desk-level folks. Anything and everything the buyers – who are almost always higher-paid and have nicer offices than the people who actually do the work – do should be grounded in and specific to how the users actually do their jobs.

I would argue that the “blame” for this is shared by vendors, who need to do a MUCH better job challenging buyers’ firmly-held-and-very-wrong perceptions.

But that’s pretty unfair, as buyers tell potential vendors what they want, and if your proposal doesn’t check the “portal” box, you’re toast.

The larger point is even more disturbing; I daresay this isn’t the one-and-only example of the management-worker disconnect.

Example – in our bill review and UR services, execs believe UR and bill review are connected via EDI or directly while users emphatically disagree.

I’d love to hear what you think. Shoot me examples of the management-user disconnect in the comments section below to help focus us on stuff that actually helps the desk-level folks do their jobs.

Instead of shiny objects.

What does this mean for you?

There’s precious little “mistake room” in work comp; wasting valuable resources and time on projects with little benefit is dumb.

(in this case, helpful comments by anonymous posters are welcome!)

9 thoughts on “The buyer – user disconnect, aka the Shiny Object problem”

  1. You’re spot on, Joe. We need to listen to the people who are actually managing the claims and from there, see what we can do to make their jobs easier, without adding additional levels of potentially frustrating automation to their already heavy loads. “Shiny objects” are kind of cool to look at but often fail to enhance productivity by lessening the amount of work. Hoping to see lots of input here from the folks actually managing the claims.

  2. Two comments. First, a portal is one of the greatest cyber-security risks for an organization. Second, a couple of years ago, everyone at a specific TPA used our services except one adjuster because we didn’t have a portal. One day, the vendor closed for bankruptcy and the client no longer had access to his/her information. The adjuster hasn’t requested a portal since that day.

  3. Kim, Joe and Anonymous – I believe the medical provider community would agree with your assessments. Joe, it seems ironic that your blog and these supportive comments occur on the same day a major managed care company announces a new “shiny object” meant to unify a plethora of moving parts and thereby make decisions for the claims professional. But, maybe not…

  4. I have been saying this for years. While a portal sounds like a great idea giving the adjuster access at any time. The truth is most adjusters don’t want to hassle with tacking another password, logging into multiple sites for service information. The vendors I dealt with and managed over the years pushed this concept. I always believed it was to serve the vendor’s interest by allowing them to capitalized on the efficiencies not the end user.

  5. If we are doing our job as a ancillary service provider (and providing the crucial information in a timely fashion); there should be no need for a portal…… if you build it, they will not come!!

  6. Joe–

    This is a fact– Old Chinese proverb:
    which means:
    That is very shiny on the outside, just like donkey shit.

    Your fortune cookie for today,

  7. Hi Joe,

    I enjoyed reading your blog and the comments. I fully agree that shiny objects that are neither truly helpful nor useful have no place in work comp.

    But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. All portals are NOT created equal. I happen to know of portals that are loved by desk-level clients, that save them considerable time, and give them better control over directing care, managing claims and shortening return-to-work.

    Also, don’t forget that portals are not just for adjusters.

    My Old Chinese proverb…. “Things that look alike might not be…”

    Enjoy the holiday weekend.

    1. Hello Dick – always good to hear from you.

      There are always a few adjusters that love portals, but across the board portals see very little use not because they aren’t well thought out, intelligently designed, and carefully introduced. Rather its because they add work rather than taking it away.

  8. This is why there should ALWAYS be a SME or front line user involved in the decision making. They know what they need to be more efficient. Having to do necessary work outside of a main operating system is not only inefficient, it is wasted resource. Working with a vendor that will build a product to fit your needs rather than trying to stuff you into an inefficient “pretty” box is rare. When you find one that will, you are on the right track, no portal necessary.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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