Duct Tape By The Dashboard Lights

My husband Bret is a charter member of the “Duct Tape Club”. His use of duct tape over the years is pretty impressive–legendary actually–but I have to say his most recent adventure with duct tape really caused me to pause in a head shaking sort of way.

On the dashboard of his car there is an indicator light for the passenger side airbag that will not turn off–it stays lit all the time and says that the passenger side airbag isn’t working. The dealership said that it is a known problem in these make of cars–there is no fix for it–the airbag is fine. Trust them–it is fine–no problem. Really?

Bret’s solution was to put duct tape over that part of the dashboard so he won’t have to look at it any more.

Duct tape use # 465.

Of course this is wrong on so many levels.

What exactly is the value of a dashboard if you can’t rely on the information it displays? Let me take a leap here….limited value, no value and in the very worse case, incorrect information can be downright dangerous.

When I am reviewing my client’s healthcare reporting dashboards I often feel as though I have entered a parallel universe.

When I say “I don’t think this measure is correct” or “I can’t figure this information out” or “what is this graph/table telling me?” and most importantly “what decision is being supported by this dashboard?” I often get the following responses: “I can’t explain it, but don’t worry about it” or “I can’t explain it, but the viewers of the report know what it means” or “I don’t know what decisions it informs” … and then big, loud warning bells go off in my head.

I have a term for answers like these…I call them: “verbal duct tape.”

What I mean is, when I encounter healthcare data dashboards I should always be able to figure out what the information is, how it is calculated and why it is being reported without someone standing behind me explaining it.

And if I can’t it is time to go back to the drawing board.

When I ask people to imagine an ICU dashboard or an anesthesia monitoring dashboard that is poorly designed and delivers unreliable and incorrect information they immediate understand the seriousness of the situation.

Obviously not all dashboards deliver information in life or death decisions, but they do inform important decisions….otherwise why bother with them at all?

Consequently, if you are…

the recipient of a dashboard report it is your responsibility to work with the folks creating it. You need to provide feedback and direction on a continual basis to ensure that you have the correct information, presented appropriately for the decisions you need to make.

And if you are…

the creator of dashboard reports you need to make certain that you too are engaged with your stakeholders and that the “verbal duct tape” is replaced with a dedication to correctly reporting the right information the right way.

And so, to practice what I preach, I am going back to the dealership to demand that they fix the indicator lights in Bret’s car. And the next time I need healthcare I am going to find out if anyone providing my care is a member of the “Duct Tape Club” before I agree to anything.

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