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Real-Life Hoaxes Offer Lessons for Reform

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, January 18, 2013

Even if you'd rather watch paint dry than watch college football, you're likely aware of the flavor-of-the-week online rubbernecking experience: the Manti Te'o con.

Although the rest of the world just learned at least part of the truth on Wednesday night, multitudes of people much closer to the situation, including, Notre Dame officials are saying, the Heisman trophy runner-up himself, were duped for almost as long into believing that a young woman named Lennay Kekua was a real person.

Not only that, but that she was the girlfriend of said player, and that she had died tragically of leukemia several months ago, coincidentally on the same day as the player's beloved grandmother.

In this and other hoaxes, senior healthcare leaders can learn a lot of lessons.

How could a person—indeed, a vast group of people—be duped into believing in the existence of someone who, ultimately, is the figment of a cruel and twisted imagination? Whether the player was ultimately in on the hoax is immaterial to this question.

For starters, it was an excellent "story" which took on a life of its own once the sports press got hold of it. The inspirational impact of the story coupled with the infatuation the sports media has with "storylines" outside the field of play conspired to blow it up to fantastic proportions.

That is, until someone decided something didn't smell right about the inconsistencies surrounding the story, and did some digging. In short, they were skeptical. They believed the story was too good to be true. As they followed the clues—the mistakes the perpetrator left behind, they came up with this.

It's not the first time someone has been conjured into existence, with huge consequences for people who so wanted to believe the story that they ignored little clues and little mistakes, ultimately being fooled.

But what does all this have to do with healthcare and healthcare reform? Well, little and big deceptions or half-truths can cost you in healthcare. Just today, a story came to my attention about a hospital in the U.S. Virgin Islands that, despite what was apparently a very convincing website, doesn't exist. At all.

It all strikes me as a cautionary tale about how credulous we all can be when contemplating the huge changes that must be made by leaders in healthcare. That's hard enough without having to suss out the truth. There are things we want to believe—sometimes—despite evidence they may produce less than optimal outcomes.

For instance, hospital and health system mergers are sprouting up like mushrooms after a spring shower, yet statistics say that less than half are ultimately successful in achieving the efficiencies they promise.

Software and cloud computing services that claim to offer the most up-to-date evidence-based medicine guidelines are necessary, but how much should we rely on their accuracy or efficacy? How do we vet their claims in a hurried and harried decision-making environment?

What constitutes good value when purchasing them? What is the definition of value in healthcare reimbursement, and will software help prove that your facility or system offers it? Same with billing systems, cost reduction techniques, consulting services, and on and on, ad nauseum.

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