Airlines Reopen For Business… Without Staff To Support

I was going to blame Hurricane Elsa on the fact that there was an 8.5 hour wait to reach a Delta agent. However I remembered last week it took 9 hours to reach an agent to change my flight, and there was no hurricane. Calling the Elite line for Delta for 15+ years, I typically am connected to an agent immediately. Sometimes, like during a hurricane, a robot asks if they can call me back within an hour. That was all pre-Covid and before airlines laid off some 75% of their call agents. The question is, if airlines can’t rehire and staff to meet customer needs, why are flights back to capacity?

American has had staffing shortages since travel resumed as well. Stories of grounded flights due to shift changes, pilot shortages, and long wait times for call agents has been all over social media. American has always struggled with customer services issue. Another question for American, is why would they overbook and sell out their flights when they know they can’t provide the staff needed to accommodate for the number of passengers?

I called Southwest and United to see what there robot would tell me for wait times. To no surprise both quoted several hours for a return call. So while I can’t point finger at the hurricane or Covid, I can call out the poor decisions airlines are making. Airlines want to return to normal times, but haven’t made the staffing investments to do so. They need to reduce the capacity of flights when short staffed as well as the number of flights until staffing is back to normal. Call agents should be priority number one. Let’s face it, America wants to get back to work and wants to travel again….airlines are actually deterring the public with these daily stories of horrific customer service experiences.

Thoughts? What are you seeing from your airline? Leave your comments below….

Travel Insurance…Stay protected while traveling again

Expect the unexpected. Rarely is that old adage proven true as often as it is in the context of traveling. But some surprises aren’t as cool as cruising through the ocean and seeing a group of whales nearby.  With that in mind, it is important now more than ever to have the necessary coverage for your trip in the event that any delays or cancellations occur. While we as consultants have historically assumed our Travel Management System covers all this, that may not be the case anymore.

The most adequate travel insurance policy for you is going to be the one that offers the specific coverage you need at a price you can readily afford. Here’s a rundown of the most common types of travel insurance, as well as some of the optional benefits you may want to look into.

  1. An interruption in your trip: Interruption coverage protects you in the event you have to return home due to an emergency once you’ve already started your trip or before. It will pay for the cost of getting you home and getting you back to your destination once you’re able to travel again.

A good example is medical conditions. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, verify whether it’s included in a policy’s medical insurance provisions. Most insurance companies require you to purchase additional coverage for pre-existing conditions.

  1. Canceling a trip: Cancellation coverage covers you for pre-paid, non-refundable expenses under a fixed set of circumstances outlined in your policy. You can make a claim when you have to cancel a trip due to a health emergency or illness, for example. Depending on the policy you choose, you may also be able to make a claim if you’re laid off from work or you’re called for jury duty.

If the list of covered cancellation reasons under basic cancellation coverage seems too limited to you, you might want to opt for CFAR or “Cancel For Any Reason”. It offers the fullest coverage but may only make sense for you if your calendar is subject to change at a moment’s notice.

Trip cancelation is a common travel insurance claim, but many policies won’t pay out for trips canceled for any reason whatsoever. Be sure to review the specifics of the policy you’re considering.

  1. If something happens to your luggage: There are few things more irritating than getting to your destination and realizing your luggage has not arrived with you. Pay attention to coverage limits and increase yours as necessary. Even mundane items like laptops and cell phones have replacement costs beyond the limits set by basic policies, so be careful to read your policy closely to be sure your most expensive possessions are fully protected.

Coverage for delayed bags will need some time to pass before you can make a claim – depending on the policy you purchased this anywhere from 2 to 6 hours and up. Once claimed your insurance will reimburse you to help replace your lost items, up to the policy limit.

Some credit cards will even cover your expenses sometimes if you were to cancel last minute. Having a travel credit card can allow you to have a more enjoyable and affordable travel experience, which means planning is key.

Credit card companies such as Chase and American Express have begun to extend the eligible purchase periods giving their customers additional time to earn their signup bonuses. Some companies are now providing additional bonus points for purchases done due to the pandemic. Examples include streaming services, food, and grocery delivery. It is important for cardholders to check in with their credit card companies to learn which non-travel purchases qualify for bonus points. This is a great incentive when trying to build good credit if you think about buying a house one day as well.

While travel insurance isn’t terribly expensive when compared with the cost of your trip, there are ways to bring down the cost. If you’re a frequent enough traveler, an annual policy might make financial sense for you. And if you’re traveling with a group—to take advantage of one of our terrific team-building events, for example—buying group insurance is a great way for all members of your party to get the same coverage for less.

Even if you decide on picking travel insurance for your international or domestic trip, make sure you understand exactly what’s covered. There are different categories for basic and special coverage. Be sure to check out this article from Money.com who provided the information for this post and make sure you understand you know everything that is covered in your policy.

Check with your firm on their policy for insurance reimbursement, but regardless, consider for any and all personal travel during these new times. I’ll be curious who is currently covering their upcoming trips with insurance…does work pay for it? Is it linked through your travel site like Concur? Leave your comments below.

Vaccine Management Consultant opportunities

Covid-19 vaccines are here…well sort of.  Let’s face it, it’s been the top news story (other than politics) for a couple months now.  Various levels of success on vaccine distribution are being reported from state to state.  All EHR systems have rolled out their software versions and solutions.  For us as consultants, we immediately have recognized the need for support at the client level regarding all these challenges and system changes.

I’ve been asked so many times this past year what we are doing at my company regarding Covid-19 response offerings.  The list just keeps growing, and now has shifted to vaccine management.  I thought this week I would take a moment to talk about what I’m seeing out there and will be eager to hear what you all have been doing as it relates to providing clients with support.   

The top focus right now is no doubt creating a program that streamlines vaccine administration and management.  A combination of EHR enhancement tools to workflow process design for program administrators and clinicians.  And obviously, having the resources to execute the program.

Here are some bullets on areas you may be asked to support:

  • EHR system upgrade support – All EHR’s have introduced enhancements and/or new software for contact tracing that tracks patients from initial screening, scheduling, vaccine administration and symptom tracking.  Customers need assistance with implementing and training.
  • Call center solutions – A big demand now to help with large increases and surges in call volumes.  Agents available to address frequently asked vaccine questions and provide eligibility screening via completion of patient questionnaires and/or surveys.
  • Scheduling Center solutions – A combination of screenings, patient portal access support, and vaccine scheduling services are all in demand, including appointment reminders.
  • Advisory solutions – Clients are seeking recommendation and guidance that aligns with CDC-recommended process for developing a vaccine distribution program including EHR, business, and billing processes to create a successful vaccine roll-out program.
  • Analytics and Data Management – Analytics are being used in a combination of vaccine distribution plans to define and redefine high-priority populations, track and allocate vaccine supplies, monitor population engagement and dosage regimen adherence, provide last mile/distribution logistics analytics, as well as effectiveness and safety pattern analysis.

This is an all hands on deck type of scenario for our customers right now.  My list of consultant opportunities is very much operational focused.  There are technology and software companies that are introducing products daily to assist with this immediate need. Here is a great article on 25 recently introduced vaccine solutions – https://hitconsultant.net/2020/12/18/recent-covid-19-vaccine-management-solutions/

What are you doing to help your customer with vaccination management?  Would love to hear how you and your firm are extending services.  Feel free to share in the comments section below.

Consultant Travel – Covid Home & Airport testing options

Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa (Photo by Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images)

With state restrictions and client testing requirements, Covid-19 testing has become essential for continued consultant travel. Having just completed my first business travel in 9 months, I found two great options, home testing before travel and airport testing when returning home. Both provided an easy solution.

The FDA has recognized several home testing options.  I opted for Everlywell as they were the first to gain authorization for a standalone at-home testing collection kit.  If you live in a state that requires a negative test within 72 hours of returning home, taking a 2nd test at the airport is perfect combination to meet requirements and give you a peace of mind.  Let’s first talk about home testing.

The kits are simple and truly self-explanatory. It took perhaps 3 minutes to pop open the box, swab both nostrils, and seal in box.  Kit comes with pre-paid return shipping label via FebEx or UPS.  One thing that was tricky was timing.  You need to have your results back before you fly, and must take within 5 days of intended travel. Plus you cannot mail in your test on the weekend.  My flight was Monday, so I mailed my test on Thursday before and received results on Monday.  It was cutting it close.  Should have mailed it one day earlier to be exactly the 5 day window. 

Options for COVID-19 home test kits include:

A significant number of U.S. airports are offering COVID-19 testing options.  Most clients are asking for evidence of negative test prior to being able to show up for a contract.  So these tests can assist consultants with client requirements that are heading to, or arriving in, destinations where proof of negative COVID-19 test results are required.  These will also will help with state travel restrictions.  I completed mine at the Tampa Airport.  Waited in line for less than 5 minutes, nurse handed me nasal swab and had me do it myself.  Sat outside and waited about 20 minutes to receive my printed negative results.  It was quick, simple, and very well organized.

Here are a list of airports and specifics regarding available testing:

Alaska

Airports in Alaska offer coronavirus testing as part of that state’s entry requirements. In order to forgo an otherwise mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement, travelers can provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result for a test that was taken within 72 hours before their arrival, or they can take a COVID-19 test upon arrival in Alaska. (They have to quarantine until the results are ready.) The testing is free for Alaska residents, but nonresidents have to pay $250 for a test at the airport. There are testing facilities at:

Juneau International Airport

Location: Airport lower level near baggage claim

The testing site at the airport in Juneau is open between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and is also staffed during flight arrivals. You can register for a test in advance online.

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

Location: Level 1 next to baggage claim carousel 3

COVID-19 testing at the Anchorage airport is available 24/7. You need to register for a test online.

Arizona

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Location: Terminal 4, Level 3 inside Drugs & More (presecurity)

An XpresCheck center offering COVID-19 testing is open Thursdays to Mondays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The testing is available to travelers, airport employees, and members of the public, who can schedule online or opt for a walk-in visit. Visits take about 20 minutes.

XpresCheck offers several COVID-19 testing options: a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for $75 (the results can take 2–3 days to arrive); a rapid molecular test that can produce results within 15 minutes, for $200; and antibody tests for $75. You can  get a PCR and antibody test at a cost of $90 together. The facilities also offer rapid flu, strep throat, and mono tests (for $25 each) and a flu shot (for $50).

XpresCheck will attempt to bill health insurance first for any testing and will then send a bill to customers for the remaining balance, if there is one. Through the end of December, Phoenix residents who do not have health insurance that covers the service will have the service supplemented.

California

Los Angeles International Airport

Locations: Tom Bradley International Terminal on the Departures level at the counters located in Aisle C, north side of the terminal (presecurity); Terminal 2 Arrivals level near the information booth (presecurity); and Terminal 6 Arrivals level near the information booth (presecurity)

At LAX, Clarity Lab Solutions is offering standard polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 tests using a nasal swab with results ready within 24 hours and provided by email. The COVID-19 tests cost $150 each and are available to anyone. The airport’s testing facilities offer walk-in services daily from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Oakland International Airport

Location: Drive-up tests at North Field complex located at 9070 Earhart Road, Oakland

The North Field location is open to the general public and airport employees daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can schedule an appointment three days or less prior to your flight (though same-day appointments are not recommended) at the CityHealth website.

San Diego International Airport

Location: Valet Parking area at 2375 Airlane Road, San Diego 

COVID-19 testing is available at this San Diego airport parking area only for Alaska Airlines passengers flying to Hawaii. Testing takes place from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and test results are ready by 2 p.m. the following day. It costs $170 and you have to show proof of your Alaska flight details.

San Francisco International Airport

Location: International Terminal (presecurity)

United Airlines passengers heading to Hawaii and Cathay Pacific Airways passengers can get tested through a Dignity Health–GoHealth Urgent Care at SFO. The dedicated COVID-19 testing area at SFO is located in the main hall of the international terminal prior to security and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Results are ready in less than an hour. The in-person tests for United passengers heading to Hawaii have a $250 price tag.

Connecticut

Bradley International Airport

Location: Baggage claim area between vestibule doors 4 and 5, across from baggage claim belts 5 and 6.

Passengers arriving in Connecticut from states with high levels of coronavirus transmission don’t have to submit to an otherwise mandatory 14-day quarantine period if they procure a negative COVID-19 PCR test 72 hours prior to arriving in Connecticut or after arriving in the state.

Genesys Diagnostics is providing the COVID-19 PCR testing at the airport through a “minimally invasive” anterior nasal swab. Results are typically available within 3 days but can take up to 10 days to receive. Testing is only available to passengers traveling through the airport on the day of their flight. The facility is open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Making a reservation online is strongly recommended. For travelers who don’t have health insurance or whose insurance does not cover the test, the cost is $125.

Florida

Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport

Location: Terminal 3 on the lower level near baggage claim (presecurity)

Operated by Nomi Health of Utah, this testing service is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. To get tested, travelers must show proof of their flight into or out of the Fort Lauderdale airport. You can register online for an appointment for a rapid antigen test with results ready in 30 minutes (for $69), or a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test with results ready within 48 hours (for $99).

Tampa International Airport

Location: Main Terminal near the Airside F shuttle (presecurity)

As of October 1, all departing and arriving passengers at Tampa International Airport can take a COVID-19 test at the Florida hub. A new testing site that was created in partnership with BayCare Health System is located inside Tampa’s Main Terminal. It offers both the rapid antigen test and PCR test. Any traveler can purchase either test regardless of their airline or destination. The PCR tests cost $125 and the antigen tests cost $57.

Testing services will be offered daily on a walk-in basis between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. This was initially a pilot program slated to run through October 31, 2020, but it has been extended at least through the end of the year. It will be available to all ticketed passengers who are flying or have flown within three days and can show proof of travel.

Hawaii

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Honolulu)

Location: Diamond Head Tour Group Area just past baggage claim carousel 31

The COVID-19 testing at the Honolulu airport is available to adults and children over the age of five for $125. No appointment is needed and the site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Results are available within three to six hours.

Illinois

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (coming soon)

Location: A walk-up presecurity testing site will be adjacent to the main terminal core, and there will be a drive-up site in a remote parking lot as well.

 Starting in late December, O’Hare will begin offering COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, with results available in 20 minutes, and PCR tests with results available within 72 hours. Simple Laboratories will be providing the tests, which will be available to both travelers and airport employees.

Chicago Midway International Airport (coming soon)

Location: There will be a walk-up testing site within the terminal at Midway.

By late December, Midway will begin offering COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, with results available in 20 minutes, and PCR tests with results available within 72 hours, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. The tests will be available to both travelers and airport employees.

Maine

Portland International Jetport

Location: Level 1 (ground level)

The Portland airport is offering $25 one-hour rapid testing to Maine residents and visitors, as well as PCR tests (with results available in three days) free of charge. Appointments are required and the facility is open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Massachusetts

Boston Logan International Airport

Location: Terminal E, Arrivals level, near Door E107 (presecurity)

The XpresCheck facility at Boston Logan is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The testing is available to travelers, airport employees and members of the public, who can schedule one on the XpresCheck website or do a walk-in visit.

XpresCheck offers several COVID-19 testing options: a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for $75 (the results can take 2–3 days to arrive); a rapid molecular test that can produce results within 15 minutes, for $200; and antibody tests for $75. You can get a PCR and antibody test at a cost of $90 together. The facilities also offer rapid flu, strep throat, and mono tests (for $25 each) and a flu shot (for $50).

Michigan

Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Location: Airport’s economy parking lot

The Grand Rapids, Michigan, airport this month introduced a drive-up COVID-19 testing site that offers both rapid antigen tests (for $75) with results in 15 minutes and PCR tests (for $125) with results within 24 to 48 hours. You can get both for $160—health insurance is not accepted. No appointment is needed and the TACKL Health-backed site is open to anyone (not just travelers or staff) from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Minnesota

Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport

Location: Lobby area on Level 2 of the Blue Ramp. Drive to Terminal 1 and at the entrance to the parking ramps follow the signs for the clinic location, which is on Level 2 of the Blue Ramp. You can park in the lanes designated for COVID-19 testing. Walk to the centrally located elevator lobby and follow signs to the testing site.

Testing at this site backed by the Minnesota Department of Health is free for Minnesotans and $94 for out-of-state residents. The saliva tests are conducted by Vault Medical Services, which asks that you not eat, drink, chew, or smoke anything for at least 30 minutes prior to providing your sample. This process takes about 15 minutes and you can expect to receive test results within a few days via email. The testing site is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Online reservations are encouraged but walk-ins are also welcome.

New Jersey

Newark Liberty International Airport

Location: Terminal B on Level 3 near the front entrance (presecurity)

The XpresCheck facility at Newark is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The testing is available to travelers, airport employees, and members of the public, who can schedule an appointment on the XpresCheck website or do a walk-in visit.

XpresCheck offers several COVID-19 testing options: a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for $75 (the results can take 2–3 days to arrive); a rapid molecular test that can produce results within 15 minutes, for $200; and antibody tests for $75. You can get a PCR and antibody test at a cost of $90 together. The facilities also offer rapid flu, strep throat, and mono tests (for $25 each) and a flu shot (for $50).

New York

In New York, the amount of time out-of-state arrivals have to quarantine can be reduced from 14 days to just 3 with testing.

Albany International Airport

Location: Lower level of the airport

Airport staff can get tested at this site for free, and travelers can get a saliva swab PCR test for between $30 and $60.  

John F. Kennedy International Airport

Location 1: Terminal 4 on Level 1 near Central Diner in the Arrivals Hall (presecurity)

XpresCheck opened its first COVID-19 testing facility at JFK, which is located in Terminal 4  before security so passengers can access it whether or not they are flying into or out of Terminal 4.

The facility offers polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests (also known as nasal swab tests), which cost $75; rapid molecular tests that can produce results within 15 minutes, which cost $200; and antibody tests for $75. You can get a PCR and antibody test at a cost of $90 together. XpresCheck will attempt to bill health insurance first for any testing and will then send a bill to customers for the remaining balance, if there is one. The facility also offers rapid flu, strep throat, and mono tests (for $25 each) and a flu shot (for $50).

Travelers should note that results for the PCR tests could take up to two to three days to arrive. XpresCheck recommends that you make a reservation for a test in advance online, though walk-ins are accepted.

Location 2: JetBlue Terminal 5

The NYC Test & Trace Corps, New York’s COVID-19 public health initiative, has partnered with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and JetBlue to open a free COVID-19 testing site in the carrier’s JFK terminal. The site offers walk-in PCR testing daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Results are typically made available within 48 hours.

LaGuardia Airport

Location: First floor of the Terminal B parking garage (presecurity)

A testing facility at LaGuardia Airport has been set up by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in conjunction with NYC Health & Hospitals as part of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to grow the number of complimentary testing sites throughout the state. The testing site is free for all passengers, and no insurance is required.

The center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and no appointment is needed. PCR tests (with nose swabs) are administered by NYC Health & Hospitals clinicians; results can be expected via phone within 48 hours.

Oregon

Portland International Airport

Location: Valet Parking area at 7000 NE Airport Way, Portland 

COVID-19 testing is available at the Portland airport only for Alaska Airlines passengers flying to Hawaii. Testing takes place from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and test results are ready within two hours. It costs $135 and you must show proof of your Alaska flight details.

Pennsylvania

Philadelphia International Airport

Location: Terminal E to the left of the security checkpoint (presecurity)

The airport’s Jefferson Health COVID-19 Testing Clinic offers passengers flying out of the Philadelphia hub an antigen test (with same-day results) for $70 or a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test (with results ready in 2–3 days) for $130. This facility is not able to bill insurance. Testing is available 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and appointments are not available or required. Those interested can preregister online.

Texas

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

Location: Inside Terminal D between gates D40 and B1 (postsecurity)

American Airlines is offering preflight COVID-19 tests for travelers flying from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Hawaii.

The options for getting tested prior to a Dallas–Hawaii flight with American are an at-home test kit provided by LetsGetChecked (with results provided within 48 hours on average) that costs $129, including shipping; in-person testing at a CareNow urgent care location in the Dallas area (for a cost of $150); or a $249 rapid-result test administered by CareNow at the DFW airport inside Terminal D.

Vermont

Burlington International Airport

Location: Just north of the terminal at 481 White Street, South Burlington (near the cell phone lot)

Garnet Health has set up shop at the Vermont airport; it offers rapid COVID-19 and flu testing to travelers as well as to the general public. The outpost is providing PCR testing with results in 36 to 48 hours, rapid antigen testing with same-day results, and rapid influenza tests with same-day results. Garnet is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and can bill health insurance for the services.

Washington

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Location: Central auditorium, mezzanine level above TSA checkpoint 3 (presecurity)

Discovery Health MD at SEA has made testing available to ticketed passengers (both inbound and outbound) traveling through the Seattle airport. The clinic is offering COVID-19 PCR tests for $250 with same- and next-day results. Those who are interested must make an appointment in advance online up to 72 hours prior to travel. The clinic is open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Thank you to Afar Travel Magazine for airport details.

Consulting in 2020 – a few hard lessons learned

2021 is finally here! I’m excited to be back online writing and sharing ideas with my fellow consultant friends and colleagues. We are stepping into the New Year with months of lessons learned from coping with quarantine, handling travel restrictions, offering services remotely, and becoming a Zoom expert…to just name a few. No doubt many of us have likely also faced layoffs, furloughs, pay reductions, or extended bench times. I’m eager to chat with you and hear about your lessons learned and hope that my topic picks are of interest and lend to further discussion between us all. Let’s start 2021 with todays blog entry, my summary of a few lessons learned from 2020.

Lesson #1 – Zoom Meeting Etiquette

These may not be in the right order for everyone, but I would say this is exactly the order of lessons I needed to tackle. No doubt the first thing was figuring out Zoom. I wasn’t always ready for that damn camera to turn on! Started many of meetings in March having to duck and run for baseball hat. After a week or so I realized I had book shelfs filled with all kinds of crap in the background, including perhaps some inappropriate “artsy” items. Someone had to show me how to change/fade my background. Some funny comments for sure…lessons learned that resulted in dressing the minute I get up and plane white digital back drop.

Lesson #2 – Transitioning to Virtual Remote Work Model

As consultants, our services are typically offered onsite with direct interactions with our customers. Concerns of impact to quality of deliverables, timeliness of project work, and reduction of customer satisfaction were all on my mind. Without the normal interaction of customers, how would I be confident that I continued to exceed expectations with my client? With the immediate set up of virtual platforms I realized our customers were also adjusting at the same time. Normal conference rooms gatherings and customer calls were just as effective via Teams, Webinar, Zoom, and other online tools. Consultants were stepping up to the idea of chat, instant messaging, and pop up meetings to improve communication. To my relief, I found these changes ended up improving quality, timeliness, and communication…both internally and externally. I expect many of these new “habits” will continue well into 2021.

Lesson #3 – Tackling State Travel Restrictions

While I mentioned most of us were off road, I still had a booming go-live business, and customers were moving forward with their EHR installs. While we did offer a 100% virtual support model, many customers wanted a hybrid of onsite and remote resources. One of the biggest challenges was state travel requirements and restrictions. Almost daily, states would add/remove travel restrictions creating significant work to our recruiters and managers. We couldn’t send people to certain states that lived in “high risk” states for months. Even customers would add restrictions in addition to state requirements including testing, no one living in NYC or LA, and other limitations never managed before. After several adjustments to process, we learned how to tackle these limitations effectively…and most importantly, safely. My first travel in 9 months required pre-flight and arrival testing so I could return to MA after a couple days in Florida. There will continue to be restrictions well into 2021, and lessons learned here will no doubt continue for months to come.

Lesson #4 – Personal and Work Balance during a Pandemic

With no place to go, and nothing else to do, I found myself sitting at my work computer for 12 to 14 hours a day. Given the transformation of how we do our business, there was always plenty to do. However, it didn’t take long before I started to realize I wasn’t exercising, cooking good meals, cleaning, spending time with my husband, or doing much of anything for myself and family. In general, I was using work as an escape from the reality of quarantine, fears of Covid, and boredom of being off the road. I quickly created a a more regular routine in order to tackle this. Daily walks, lunch breaks, and evening online social hours became a norm. One friend started hosting a weekly zoom trivia night in late March, and still offers it some 9 months later. We started baking as a hobby and a major reorganization of storage and closets. For the most part, this routine continues today.

Lesson #5 – Staying out of Politics

2020 was a hard year to stay out of politics. We were faced with debates on Covid response management, the Presidential election, Black Lives Matter, riots, protests, looting…did I miss anything? Everyone had an opinion. Social media became a source of news for many, while the actual news ended up dividing many of us. The emotional stress and dealings of Covid was hard enough on its own, then add all these other events and issues. Early on I learned that my opinion did not align with many at work internally or externally. Comments meant to be “small talk” were inadvertently creating tension and distrust. I great mentor of mine years ago told me to always read the local paper where I was going before meeting with the client. Not traveling, I forgot these words of wisdom for a while…now I’m back to this great habit. So many other small talk items to read about and discuss include weather, sports, local events, customer successes, and so on.

What were some of your top lessons learned from 2020? Share your comments below.

How have you Adopted to working from home?

Hard to believe it’s been exactly 6 months ago today since my last work trip and flight.  It was a quick client visit in San Francisco to kick off an Epic go-live.  Then, like a flip of the switch, all travel was canceled due to Covid.  Projects were suddenly delayed, staff were asked to work remote, and quarantine forced us to stay home for months.  I haven’t written a blog entry since, as priorities in our world of consulting have all shifted.  This was new for me, and many of us had to majorly adjust how we tackle each day.  Let’s face it, it’s been a struggle to adjust, but I think after 6 months…I’ve finally adopted to the new norm.

I thought I would share my thoughts on a few areas that really required a change in how I approached continued client support, while adopting to my new work environment in my home office.  Let’s start there, setting up a conducive office space.  I myself am lucky, I have a physical office.  My laptop and PC are running all day with both my cell and home phone ready.  My husband on the other hand did not have an office, so we had to convert the guest bedroom.  We are on opposite sides of the house, and with doors closed we have a good set up.  I have seen colleagues struggle with challenges including their kids, pets, internet connections, and non-conducive environments.  I’m lucky, I had none of those issues. Would love to hear how those of you with these obstacles adopted.

Attending back to back Zoom meetings was another big adjustment.  I wasn’t prepared to suddenly be on camera at 8am with my boss!  First couple days I found myself throwing on a baseball hat, but quickly realized others were dressing professionally.  I would say by week 2 I was taking a shower first thing and wearing a dress shirt for the day….and yes, I always had shorts or pants on.  I noticed my background was cluttered with office shelves full of tchotchkes and picture frames.  My laptop did not support the green screen option to fade the background, so I had to clean up the shelves and change some artwork.  When I meet with clients, I move my laptop so that I’m in front of a plane white wall.  I’ve seen some pretty funny backgrounds, and even a couple really inappropriate ones.  Curious what the funniest background you’ve seen has been.

My biggest challenge these past 6 months was quickly and effectively transitioning our normal service offerings to new delivery models and net new services due to Covid patient care, travel restrictions, and pop up hospitals.  In my role at work I lead our consulting services efforts for go-lives, training, implementations, optimization projects, and Managed services.  Almost overnight I watched project after project get delayed and/or totally canceled.   

We had to quickly adjust our focus areas to meet a sudden new demand in the market, support services for Telehealth.  Within days we set up an extended version of our Epic MyChart service desk to now provide full patient prep support for telehealth along with provider support.  My go-live leads and Epic builders were moved to answer phones with an increase in call volumes off the charts.  It was, at first, a crazy rapid response model to get our customers up and running on support.  Months later we’ve improved our processes, staffing models, and quality of delivery.  We’ve also successfully converted our go-live and training services to a virtual model option, but most our customers are asking for a hybrid version.  I’m sure you all have been asked to change the way you deliver your consulting services, and no doubt will need to continue to bend and flex as we identify the new “norm.”

The biggest loss, from my perspective with all this, is the loss of face to face networking opportunity.  Every event I had planned these past 6 months have been canceled including multiple client visits, HIMSS, CHIME, Epic UGM, KLAS Collaborative, and our own company sales meeting.  Many of these were offered at some level in a virtual setting, but it really is not the same.  Client meetings are on Zoom, but rarely do I get to see their face.  I find it unlikely any of our industry events will return anytime soon.  HIMSS21 has already been delayed from March to August 2021 in Las Vegas.  I expect others to follow that lead and push out their event dates.

I will admit that there have been some considerable advantages to working from home.  While I miss traveling, I do not miss sitting in traffic, fighting for overhead bin on a plane, or sitting for hours and hours in the terminal for delayed flights.  I’ve never had a cleaner home and have advanced my cooking skills considerably.  Being able to spend more time with my husband has been wonderful as well as safe social distancing small gatherings with friends has also been really nice. 

I’ll admit in April I was fighting depression, but looking back now at the last 6 months, I have to take the whole experience in and look at how well I’ve adopted to the changes.  To close out, I have to say I’m so lucky that my colleagues, employees, family and friends are healthy.  We are all dealing with various challenges and the current political and cultural clashes in our country aren’t exactly helping our cause.  Let’s continue to work together, face the ever shifting challenges in our industry, and lend support whenever you can at work, to your community, and to your colleagues in the industry. 

Want to share how you’ve adopted?  Share your comments below.

How will Covid19 Impact your Travel Plans for Work or Fun in 2020? A quick survey…

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Photo by Palu Malerba on Pexels.com

Companies around the world have sent their employees home, closed their offices, and grounded their traveling staff. Remote efforts are in full swing and clients are depending on creative, urgent, impactful solutions for patients and physicians a like. The countless press releases and articles on these variations of offerings are everywhere. But I started to think about what the future will hold for us, both professionally and personally. What decisions will we, our companies, and family be making in regards to future travel once quarantine is lifted?

I’m eager to hear what your plans are. Please take just a quick survey to assist with collecting some additional data to share. Click on survey here.

Consultants Need to be Prepared for Alternate Client Support Work

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We are in a state of emergency. There is no doubt that every industry is being impacted worldwide. For those of us who travel regularly, we are seeing empty airports and planes. Masked passengers and reduced services to protect us from getting sick. But the industry that we work in, Healthcare, will only get busier and busier with demands of testing, emergency services, and an enormous increase in call volume. As consultants we need to be prepared to provide support in any manner our clients see fit, and you can bet most of that will be remote and different from what you are used to doing.

Offices are closed and full time IT staff are working remotely to keep EHR systems running for clinical staff. It’s likely that major initiatives and go-lives are being delayed. Other project delivery efforts around optimization, upgrades, and training will need to take a back seat as priorities are realigned to meet the demands of patients. If you were supporting any of these types of projects, you may be stuck for a while with no work for some time. However, there are other urgent needs that our clients will be facing, and you need to be flexible and available if called upon.

Exhibiting flexibility and willingness to step in where needed will be essential to helping our customers, for as long as this takes. It may be simple work like triaging patient calls, patient portal support, prioritizing incoming tickets, tier 1 help desk level support, and/or other “keep the lights on” type of efforts. You can bet that Epic, Cerner, Meditech and others will be prepared for requests, and so should we. No doubt customers are looking to the experts for immediate EHR workflow changes specific to the testing and treatments associated with COVID-19. I would expect quick turn around on these efforts, and training support will be essential here.

If you are not heading to the airport tomorrow ask yourself, what services is your firm offering during this emergency that you might be able to support?  What other “roles” can you fill in and help with?  Reach out internally to your managers and leadership and extend an offer to help.  Let’s get through this, and help our clinicians focus on what they need to do, stop the spread of this virus.

Know your State Rules and Request your Absentee Ballot Early

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Voting season is upon us, and our participation is absolutely essential this year. Many of us travel weekly which impedes on our ability to go to our assigned polling location. The good news is that regardless of what state you live in, there is a quick and easy way to request your absentee ballot. I recommend simply visiting Vote.org. From there you can select your state and complete the form. This will take all of about 1 minute and you can move forward with booking your travel and focusing on your engagement.

There are different deadlines based on the state you live. Click here for a list of each states requirements. Most states recommend you request your ballot a week in advance if doing so online. However there are some states that require two weeks. You can also request a ballot in person to be mailed in. Also be sure to follow the “mailed by” requirements for your state. Some allow post marked date of election, but others require 3 days prior.

There are all different considerations for voting by the way.  Most states recognize; Polling place voting, absentee voting with excuse, absentee voting without excuse, early voting, in-person absentee voting, all-mail voting, provisional voting, overseas absentee voting, and military absentee voting. Absentee voting by mail without excuse is allowed in 27 states and DC. In 20 states, an excuse is required. No-excuse permanent absentee voting is allowed in 6 states and in DC, and 3 states (Oregon, Washington and Colorado) conduct all early voting by mail.

There is no reason you can’t vote this year.  I promise not to preach on this site, nor will I share my views on candidates.  Instead I’ll just encourage you all to be proactive and request your ballot now.  I’ll end by also mentioning that if you haven’t registered to vote, and want to do that as well as request an absentee ballot, visit usvotefoundation.org and select your state.

How to Plan Your Attack of HIMSS Exhibit Hall and Sessions

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With just over 1,400 exhibitors and an attendance of 42,000 healthcare professionals, you really have to be ready with a plan of attack. Whether you are attending as an exhibitor, speaker, member, or first time newbie…we are all facing challenges with how best to tackle this huge event. This is my 10th year in a row attending, and I think I finally have a process that works pretty well. I thought I would share some thoughts and give a couple tips learned.

You’ll need to start by answering the question, what do I want to get out of the show? Education is typically the primary walk away including exposure to new technologies, vendor demos, attending educational sessions, and participating in various events. As an exhibitor, I have a clear structure and purpose which is to educate current and potential clients with services and technologies offered by my firm. Secondary opportunities for me are to capture competitor details, take advantage of partnership and networking gatherings, and catch up with colleagues and friends in the industry.

Your plan of attack should be narrowed down to 3 or 4 areas of focus and outline time expected to achieve each of those focus areas. Create an actual schedule of what and when you are attending sessions, demos, and events. Most importantly, have a map of where these are…the convention center is 7 million square feet. My Fitbit averages 12 miles a day, and I spend half my time on booth duty!

Here is the main exhibit hall. But don’t forget there is the West Hall level 1, Rosen level 3, and the Hyatt across the street.

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First thing to tackle is education events. If this is your first time attending I highly recommend you go to the “First Timer’s Conference Orientation.” I’ve gone several times, as the Las Vegas venue is more spread out and very confusing. I also suggest you review the agenda on the HIMSS2020 website and take a look at all the options to help build up your schedule. No doubt you’ve already identified top sessions and/or events, but you may find dozens more here. Keynote speaker events are always full to capacity.

Networking and social events are always fun and free. Plan to attend the opening Reception Monday evening. It’s a fantastic way to kick off the show with opportunity to meet and greet fellow colleagues as well as meet new people, it’s a huge ballroom and very conducive for the event. The Exhibit Halls Social Hour on Wednesday will have free food, beverages and various organized regional HIMSS gatherings. As a HIMSS member, you are invited to your regional hosted event. Be sure to go online to your regional specific HIMSS website for these invites, they are not on the HIMSS2020 site.

My suggestion for another area of planning is meals and social gatherings. The convention center offers dozens and dozens of food carts both inside and outside the exhibit hall area. There are food court on level two. There is a restaurant upstairs on level four and three restaurants at the Hyatt across the street. It’s not enough. Lines for coffee alone in the morning are crazy. The food court will be packed from 10:30 am – 2pm non-stop. Restaurants have lines out the door prior to even opening. My suggestion, bring snacks and bottles of water.

Want to get together for a drink with friends or your team? There are three bars at the Hyatt, and unless you plan on cutting out mid-afternoon, you’ll have to fight to get in to any of them. Plan on dinner and social gatherings away from the convention center. Restaurants within walking distance are usually closed for private events, so the further away you get from the conference the better. Make reservations now. Use OpenTable now to look for places that still have availability. This is the one reason I prefer the event in Vegas, food and beverage options are far greater and easier. Guess we can look at that in 2021.

Let’s wrap up with the last, and biggest challenge, the exhibit hall. No doubt this is the #1 driving force behind the entire event. As mentioned, there are over 1400 booths ranging from small first time sponsors with 6 foot tables to major vendors having 12,000 – 14,000 square foot giant offices. IBM usually takes the top spot with Epic right behind costing over $200K just for the space, not including shipping, furnishing, or services. You could fill a dozen suitcases with tchotchkes from pens, socks, binders, stuffed animals, and sweets….to just name a few. There is a reason they give you a backpack when you register, you’ll need it!

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The real value is not the freebies, it is the opportunity to obtain market trending information, training, and materials relevant to your business. My suggestion is to review the attendee list and determine their location. Use the interactive floor plan to search for those companies you want to visit and lay out a path that shows their locations by booth number and Hall area.

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After you’ve determined who you want to visit, go to their website to see if they are offering demos and/or meetings. Most vendors will have an option to proactively set up a meeting so you don’t have to stand in line waiting. Many vendors offer ongoing demos that start every 30 minutes or so. Additionally, you could benefit from gathering materials and taking pictures of booths signage to bring back to your staff. I take dozens of pictures of the various EHR booth signage to share with my consultants and team members.

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There are probably 50 articles out there on the subject. This will be my 10th year in a row attending. Hopefully my lessons learned help you a bit with your planning a method of attack. If you are attending, please come by and say hello.  I’ll be at both CHIME and HIMSS all week.

Have other ideas and suggestions to share? Please leave your comments below.