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Time Capsule: Conduct a Survey, Game the Results: If the Results are Important, Somebody’s Cheating

March 15, 2013 Time Capsule 3 Comments

I wrote weekly editorials for a boutique industry newsletter for several years, anxious for both audience and income. I learned a lot about coming up with ideas for the weekly grind, trying to be simultaneously opinionated and entertaining in a few hundred words, and not sleeping much because I was working all the time. They’re fun to read as a look back at what was important then (and often still important now).

I wrote this piece in July 2008.

Conduct a Survey, Game the Results: If the Results are Important, Somebody’s Cheating
By Mr. HIStalk


My doctor is part of a big medical center’s group practice. I noticed a big poster on the wall last week. It explains to patients in great detail how to fill out a patient satisfaction survey. It is helpful, especially if you want to give the office a perfect score (that’s the only option shown).

It’s about as heavy-handed as those car dealers whose signs urge, “See the manager if we didn’t earn all fives on your satisfaction survey.” Sometimes they even offer a free oil change if you agree to give them a perfect score. Strange: it’s their own survey, but they’re still encouraging customers to lie about being satisfied. Why bother to conduct a survey if you’re going to tamper with the results, especially if you’re only fooling yourself?

Places I’ve worked did employee satisfaction or communication surveys. Sounds great in the HR office, but in the trenches, executives were begging and threatening to get good marks.

All that led me to think about seemingly objective healthcare IT information sources that really aren’t. If the results are important, you can bet someone is cheating.

I went on a site visit for clinical systems awhile back. I knew the hospital was threatening to kick the vendor out and sue them, but everybody seemed manically happy. For good reason, it turned out: at least one of them was a vendor’s employee wearing a hospital badge. I also accidentally discovered that the hospital CEO had sent a threatening letter to the key contact, warning him not to say anything negative that would make the vendor mad (I saw it on his desk).

I’ve stopped reading free industry magazines. My IT world is a lot uglier, less conclusive, and more frustrating than the one they claim to live in. The stories are about as hard-hitting as a vendor’s press release. If you can’t find even one negative in a case study article, you’re reading propaganda.

I believe KLAS rankings in general, but I’ve heard that vendors work hard to get their best customers interviewed.

I’ve known some Most Wired survey respondents who either exaggerated or lied outright, depending on how charitable you might be at the moment. Looks good on the resume, you know, and the CEO will finally notice the IT department.

Most recently, I was excited that some healthcare-related organizations made Computerworld’s list of best places to work. Alas, employees from one of them e-mailed me to say that their employer had strong-armed employees to turn in happy surveys (think of the irony: those in the trenches were threatened to act happy or else).

My conclusion is this: caveat emptor. Nobody has an incentive to warn prospects about questionable vendors, products, or employers. Folks who wouldn’t lie to friends might exaggerate to strangers.

There’s an informal collusion among vendors, trade magazines, and member organizations to keep prospects buying by putting on a phony happy face. That’s their job. Yours is to seek the truth. And if the publisher of this newsletter sends you a reader survey, I’ll give you a free oil change if you say I’m the best thing about it.

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. I agree for the most part. However, please don’t classify ALL vendors in one category. They are NOT all Charleton’s. I’d check the vendor’s reputation first and then call the references. There are alot of good vendors who are very upfront and say they are not perfect.

  2. When I worked for one vendor we certainly supplied a hand picked customer list to KLAS. We also gave these customers some great bonuses and kickbacks for good reviews.

  3. @KJ

    Would you please share more of your war stories with us?

    We like hearing the truth. It gives us a better understanding of the deception pervading this $trillion effort to “transform healthcare” with several swift clicks of the mouse.

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