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Okay, if it sounds like I’ve got a runny nose, it’s not because I’m sick. It’s because I was eating some spicy food. Man, there was a time when I could eat much more pungent food! Man, back in the day, like a Thai 8. Now, Thai 6 lights me up. This is what I’m eating – it’s probably like a Thai 4 or 5. I’m sniffling like whatever.

Do you have to read the manual?

From Thai food and spiciness to “I got a new toaster.” I noticed it came with a manual, and I didn’t bother to read it. I don’t usually see these things, but I was sticking cardboard and things like that back into the box – the stuff that wasn’t getting used. I attached the manual back in there. As I did so, I kind of thought, “God help me if I need a manual to operate this.” I mean, it’s a toaster. Either the cheese is falling off my cracker, or it’s way too damn complicated if you’ve got to read a manual to operate a toaster.

That got me thinking. Many things should be intuitive and are not. For example, dashboard control panels on BMWs are not intuitive. It’s painful. Frequently, you’ve got to navigate through tons of dropdowns. 

Admittedly, it’s been a few years since I had a BMW (it was 740). God, it was a nightmare! You had this turning knob, and you had to navigate across and down in these menus. I just wanted to shoot myself or shoot the engineers in Germany or wherever these engineers were. It was painful. You needed a Ph.D. to navigate to find something, and I wouldn’t say I liked it.

How complicated is the RCM reporting system?

That brought me to what should and should not have manuals. Complicated things probably need to have manuals. For example, reporting systems that have lots and lots of reports could likely benefit from a manual. In billing system reporting modules, there have been many times when I wished that I had a manual to figure things out and find particular reports. It would be great to know where to navigate to see the report you want. 

Frequently, I just thought about not just “Hey, where’s a charge detail report?” but “Where’s the report that’s going to have these fields that I need?” because that may or may not be called the charges detail report. Every different system has different names for things. It’s a daily report. Further, it’s a log report. Also, it’s a reconciliation report; it’s a charges report. I can’t think of all the stupid names people come up with, but it seems to make sense to whoever wrote it. But it’s not familiar to everybody.

That takes me to another thing, which is, even if you know the name of the field that you’re looking for (I’m looking for an area that includes payment posted date), the problem is that that system may not call it “payment posted date.” So it would help if you had an explanation of what the fields you’re going to get. I’ve seen this where there’s a report that shows posted date in the same system, and then there’s another report that shows posted date, but they’re not the same thing. 

Reconcile the right fields

In one report, that date was the date that the charge was posted. In another report, it was the date that the payment was posted. Now, that’s the same encounter, which is effectively a type of record. So you have two different fields that have the same name, that have other dates in them. It makes a mess. Forgetting whether or not they should have named them that, that’s a different issue. But knowing what they called them and what it means would be nice.

I’ve even run into situations where we were trying to figure out what a particular field meant in a system. It wasn’t clear from the documentation, so we reached out to the software company that made the practice management software and asked them what their report meant. We asked them what the field was, and they didn’t know. They had to try to go figure it out. It was hilarious, painful, and unfortunate all at the same time, but kind of funny. I was laughing and crying.

That’s not uncommon. Somebody in that organization did not keep detailed notes of what that field meant and then got that information across into a documentation kind of thing. By the way, this was a billing system that had like a 1,000-page manual on their system. It was pretty detailed, and they didn’t know.

It should be more intuitive

Taking it back then to “What should have manuals?”, reporting systems should have manuals. Do they have to be that complicated? Because I don’t want it to be complicated. It’s not fun when reporting systems are complex. Often, they are. They usually are, pretty much always are. Something’s always tricky. But couldn’t that reporting system be made to be so intuitive that you don’t need a manual?

Haven’t you encountered something like a car? If I get into most cars, I don’t have to read a manual to drive them. It’s sufficiently intuitive that I can look for a button to press or a pivotal slot to enter. There are only a few ways to do it, although I think Jaguar at one point had a shift knob where you had to rotate it. That’s different from anybody else, which is stupid. In general, you don’t need a manual to drive a car, which is fantastic. And a car is a pretty complex object. 

So how can we have a vehicle that we don’t need a manual to drive but not a reporting system?

Could we make a system that is kind of intuitive, or maybe it’s even so intuitive that you not only don’t need a manual, but you don’t need training? That would be amazing. I think that should be the goal for the reporting and analytics system. If you could take a knowledgeable, experienced billing professional, drop them in front of it, turn them loose, and get the reports generated that they want quickly, that’s amazing.


What’s quick? What’s fast? Well, they should be able to find any report that includes all the information that they need or, if they have created a custom report, at least, navigate to where they can make that custom report and find the fields and things like that for the first time all in under two minutes. That’s what I think you should be able to do. That would be intuitive. That would be a sort of definition of “this is fast and easy.” Wouldn’t that be amazing? That’s what we’re going to shoot for, and I think that’s what everybody should shoot for at this time.