Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is There Potential Turbulence As The Friendly Skies Go Social?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.
This past week I attended the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Las Vegas. Being that I live on the east coast, I had to take a plane to get there. I could have done a road trip, the train or even run ala Forrest Gump, but frankly, I didn’t have a couple of weeks to spare nor do I desire running as more than an occasional part of my regimen. Basically, I have no other choice than to put myself through the sometimes tenuous ritual of flight.

The conference yielded a wealth of information and was worth facing the perils of airline travel. In this case the reward outweighed the risk involved. The risk of getting seated next to someone I consider an undesirable row-mate or that the in flight movie includes some work by Pauly Shore or Carrot Top (or that my row-mate is Carrot Top).

Coincidentally, I ran across an article by All Things D author Laura Goode during my flight home. In the story, she references a recent New York Times article about airlines using customer social media information to pair up passengers on flights.

The concept is not entirely new as a few airlines and companies have tried to match people up based on their level of annoyance…rather, their preferred level of talkativeness while in the air. Quiet goes with quiet and chatterboxes pass the time with kindred souls. However, the idea that seat assignments based on social profiles loaded with information about careers, looks, hobbies and more  is an entirely different animal.

The concept of selecting your captive audience for the next 3 to 20 hours (we have an office in Australia) brings up a slew of privacy issues, concerns and interesting questions. While novel and an incredibly cunning way to apply social media marketing to the product airlines sell, to me, it just seems a bit over the top. Here’s why:

Potential Discrimination Issues
We’ve all heard the stories about people who have been asked to buy two seats because of their size or the overly smelly traveler that has been asked to leave the plane. We’ve also heard the backlash from such events. One of Goode’s readers commented that using social media could lead back to the days where travelers are segregated to sections of the fuselage based on ethnicity. While maybe a bit of a kneejerk response and possibly a bit shortsighted, the comment does raise the question of whether seating assignments based on personal information could lead to discrimination, either intentional or unintentional.

Here’s one to ponder; will companies who pay for tickets have to abide by EEOC requirements to make sure their employees don’t violate any rules during flight?

Cyber Stalking
Inevitably, there will be man or woman on the flight that is looking to interact with the best looking passenger. They open up their social media site of choice, browse the goods and shortly thereafter it’s, “Bam! I’ll take the person sitting in 14 C with the dimples for $500 Alex.”

Is it me or does this raise any concerns? Is the potential for unwanted attention or ulterior motives there? In all fairness the article does say that passengers have the right to deny a seating request made by another passenger up to two days before the flight. That’s not the point. You will be compartmentalized with the very person you denied, they know where you’re sitting and might be a little upset with you for no reason other than you didn’t want to spend time with them.

That brings up another issue. Social media is, in fact, social (sometimes pseudo social). Users sometimes feel an immediate connection with others they might not have ever run across in passing. To some, social media is their primary means of connection with outside world. People say and do things they would never say or do in person via the web. Point being, I don’t want someone’s perception of me, based on their life experiences, to be their expectation during a flight.

You could make the argument that your very participation in social media denies you all rights to certain levels of privacy, however, you control who is in your network, you control whether or not to share certain information with your “friends,” you have control.

In the airline model, sharing your information is optional. As an IT and staffing professional, I can see the upside for potential networking opportunities that could be beneficial to the entire row. Am I willing to take the risk that instead, I get seated between people who made their choice based on a musical artist I like and want to talk about Lady gaga (guilty pleasure) for hours when I have work to do?

There are just too many questions that come up for this to be a good idea. It seems like the risks outweigh the potential rewards. Maybe some things are just best left to chance; including your seating partner when flying alone.

Monday, February 20, 2012

You can blame criminal elements, but counterfeit products enter markets through stupidity.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.
The principal of Occum’s Razor is used by most of us in our day to day lives, whether we know it or not. All things being equal, the simplest explanation is most likely to be true.

There’s been a lot of speculation about counterfeit produce in US markets recently, from fake Tiffany rings on e-bay to major influxes of counterfeit drugs into the US pharmaceutical market place.

This is not robbery, it’s not theft – it’s a lesson in false confidence. At some point, someone was taken for a fool in a circumstance where they should have known better. In almost all cases, they were motivated to ignore or downgrade the risk element because they had something to gain. When we ignore the tell-tale signs of fraudulence, it’s almost always because we want to believe.

There’s a reason they’re called confidence scams. The con man doesn’t need the real product; he doesn’t even need any product at all. All he needs is your confidence. This seems like a good deal to me.

As I read these stories, I’m constantly brought back to the same question: How are so many people in this country able to ignore the advice they have been given since childhood by mothers, fathers, teachers and bosses?

If a deal looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

Great deals come with simple explanations. The rent for this apartment seems very cheap, but the owner needs to leave town urgently for 6 months and doesn’t have time to wait around. This hotel seems cheap, but they’ve only been open two weeks and they are attracting customers away from established competitors. Sensible and simple explanations.

If the simple explanation is either missing – or you have cause to doubt its veracity – it’s time to back away.

Most of us have seen it on the streets of major cities. There’s a guy selling designer goods out of a suitcase; the boxes are all top end brands – Calvin Klein, Ray-bans, Gucci. $10 for the 50ml bottle that sells for $70 in Macy’s. Hungry tourists crowd round to get themselves a bargain.

Now and again a furious buyer returns shouting at the vendor. They’ve opened the box and the product is a cheap imitation.

But what are they complaining about? Of course the product is fake. They’re produced for $2.00 and sold for $10.00. No other plausible explanation existed from the beginning. You can hope that they’re stolen if your conscience allows it, but even then – what are the chances?

Some research for this blog threw up some incredible message boards where people complained at length that the Tiffany ring they had bought on e-bay was not the real thing. The price was $6.00. Come on. Seriously?

The perfume is fake. The handbag is not really from Gucci. The sunglasses are not really Ray-bans and yes – the $6.00 ring is not really from Tiffany. If you paid $6.00 and expected a Tiffany ring, then you are an idiot by anyone’s definition.

So when it comes to the healthcare industry’s issue, who is really to blame for the influx of counterfeit drugs into the huge US market? (40% of the world’s prescription drugs are sold in the US.) The answer is simple. At some point the supply chain moves from illegal to legal. It moves from the criminally devious to the honestly stupid. Breaking this link in the chain is the answer to combating counterfeit produce.

At a corporate level, every bit as much as at a personal level, we are responsible for making sensible decisions. We must assess risk, identify things that need explanation and follow a sensible, logical course of action.

In every occurrence of a fake product entering a market, someone is failing to do these things. Someone is chasing a bargain or a glut – and an opportunity to benefit personally – that is blinding them to their obvious responsibility to see things for what they are.

If you don’t 100% trust the source you’re buying from, you have to be 100% sure you have the means to assess the product before you either use it or pass it on.

Buyers across the pharmaceutical supply chain would do well to keep Occum’s Razor close at hand.

Monday, February 13, 2012

ICD-10 is Big – Inefficiency Through Absurdity – When Bureaucracy Gets Out of Hand

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.
It appears that as is true with most things that grow beyond usefulness (i.e. - our 72,000 page tax code in the U.S.) ICD-10 has gone into the realm of regulating ridiculousness.  When you need billing codes that include the following items, you know that we are spending more tax dollars on coming up with these categories than we receive in efficiency of having them in the first place:

W5612XA: Struck by a sea lion, initial encounter

Now, I’ve been around the world. I’ve seen a lot of things. I have yet to encounter anyone that’s had an initial encounter of this nature with a sea lion. They’re big. They’re bad. I imagine if you egg them on enough they could do some damage, or, if you’re scuba diving they could mistake a flipper for a fish but, in all honesty, why not just “Attacked by marine animal (non-venomous), initial encounter”  and why “initial encounter”? Are there repeat offender sea lions? How about a “You’re not going to believe this one, explanation pending” billing code?


W5609XA: Other contact with dolphin, initial encounter

Hmmm. I am trying to figure out what exactly justifies “other contact with a dolphin” and how it could be “other” if it is the “initial encounter.” That aside, this one scares me a little. Granted dolphins aren’t prone to the same history of striking people like the evil sea lions but, I have always envisioned dolphins as the loveable, sea park kind. You know the aquatic entertainers that ride on their tails, running through a series of commands with their trainer for entertainment purposes. I have also heard of dolphins being used for medical and mental therapy purposes (although it’s a highly controversial practice and oddly enough, not covered by a lot of insurance carriers so – no billing code). However, I have heard that dolphins have come to the aid of humans and other creatures being attacked by sharks, punching them off the intended prey with their sturdy snouts.  Does Flicka have a secret Jekyl and Hyde complex? It all depends on the intent, if any, behind the wording of this code.

These highly obscure and extremely specific codes, except in the case of “other contact,” abound in ICD-10. That’s a problem for me and likely a problem for the billing coordinator that’s inputting the code as well.

This next one is almost beyond belief:

T7501XD: Shock due to being struck by lightning, subsequent encounter

Lottery ticket anyone? Come on! I know it has happened. I have read about a forest ranger that was struck seven times in his lifetime. A freak of nature?  Certainly.  Does that mean we need to add five more billing codes in case it happens again? Subsequent encounters with lighting seem like a statistical anomaly that likely should not warrant their own code. If you survive the first strike and make it through the second, I think they should throw out the bill. You’ve been through enough and it’s less absurd a thought than having two codes for lightning encounters.

As long as we’re exploring the edges of absurdity, I’d like to suggest a few more codes that we could incorporate into the code:

14THE8GES: “Other contact with an alien being, close tertiary encounter”

M1FAVR8:  “Shock due to being struck in hand by joy buzzer via hack comedian, subsequent annoyance”

Or the highly specific:

MY2CENTS:  “Struck by chair on pinky toe while walking barefoot through a dark room rendering it pretty much useless for the next two weeks and may require amputation, yearly encounter”    

Certainly there is a place for efficiencies and consistency in medical billing- but seriously, should there be a difference in medical BILLING between being struck by a sea lion vs. a dolphin? The astronomical and egregious rise in healthcare costs seemed to be caused by similar "inefficient efficiencies" throughout the system.

Although, even though highly specific, I know for a fact that most of us can relate to the proposed pinky toe billing code.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Is this the Beginning of The End for Job Boards?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.
Last week Monster Worldwide Inc. announced it has laid off roughly 7 percent of its worldwide workforce according to a recent article by Rodney H. Brown .

This brings to mind the question whether or not this spells the beginning of the end for online job boards.

Social media and online networking sites are quickly becoming a major player in the recruiting game. Referrals, references, resumes and recommendations are like Kevin Bacon except they’re only one or two network levels away. Candidates and employers are connecting in specialized online groups and micro communities. Instant messaging and proprietary network email can often cut steps for recruiting firms and hiring managers to find the right fit for their job. Let’s call it job boards “plus.”

Could it also be that the major players in the job board game are pricing themselves out of the market?

Maybe. Maybe not.  Make no mistake the boards are still a viable source for many companies to find exactly who and what they need. 

However, one can make an argument that for specialized positions, which are growing increasingly common, the job boards lose some of their luster. Productivity gains over the years have created new jobs with more individual responsibility and that require larger skill sets.

Increasingly specific job descriptions are also an indirect result of the recession. For the past three or so years, employers have been enjoying their pick of top candidates and rejecting talent for lack of a single skill. For these types of positions, job boards are more of a starting point than a means to find the next hire.

Small companies, start-ups and recruiting firms are still recovering from the economic collapse of 2008. Many are hard pressed to afford posting fees almost 10 times higher than they were when the majors were starting out.  The boards are seemingly forcing the little guys to get creative with social media and encouraging the large companies to consider a radical shift in their sourcing and recruiting strategies.

Put all these factors together and it’s looking bleak for the major boards.

The major job boards will begin to realize that getting back what they’ve already lost is significantly more difficult than sustaining their momentum would have been.  It’s easy to lose sight of keeping your momentum when everything is going great.  Now that the tables have turned, seemingly overnight to a candidates market, simply lowering fees again will not bring back what they have lost.  We know that economically jobs and housing are tied together, so just as plummeting housing prices did not bring back the real estate boom, reduced job board fees will not bring back the companies who have already been alienated.  Once bitten, twice shy… 

Is it the beginning of the end? No one knows for sure. That little voice in the back of my head says it might be headed in the same direction as Tom Brady’s Hail Mary in last night’s game.