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One-on-One with KLAS President Kent Gale

July 14, 2008
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Kent Gale talks about the unique role KLAS plays in the industry, and responds to attacks some have made on the Utah-based company.

It’s rare that a company occupies a truly unique position, but that seems to be the case with Orem, Utah-based KLAS. The organization is one of the most respected sources of information in the healthcare IT industry, producing reports that CIOs pay major bucks to possess. In fact, a number of CIOs have told HCI that KLAS reports are one of the main tools they use when starting down the path of vendor selection, at the very least, giving them a baseline of who’s who in the market. But nobody’s perfect, and KLAS has had some rocks thrown its way. In the following interview, HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra talks with KLAS President Kent Gale about all of the above, and more.

AG: Why do you think your model, of getting feedback from users, as opposed to doing your own evaluations, has resonated so well?

KG: First off, this is not a black and white measurement. You know we are not measuring tolerances here. What we’re measuring is individual expectations being met or not being met and this is typically by the business owner. So it wouldn’t be the registrar, the person sitting at the desk registering patients, it would be the manager of the registration area, that we typically talk to. So we don’t want to know specifically if every little feature functions exactly how they want. We want to know if it’s meeting the business need, are there functions missing or are there other exceptionally good functions they have and what are those. Typically, our goal is to talk to the business owner and they could be anything from a CEO of the hospital or IDN all the way down to the manager of registration services.

So the theory is to talk to the people who best know if their expectations are being met. We gather anecdotal information and then we have them answer 40 symmetric questions that allow us to aggregate the data and report it back to the same people who gave it to us. Then they can look at the data. The key difference here is, we have a hard and fast rule that everything we do has to be to the benefit of the provider community.

We have huge pressure from the vendors, from consulting firms, from investment bankers to sort things out so that it makes more sense to them, but not as much sense to the provider. So we always lean to the provider’s side; if we’re going to do anything, it has to benefit the provider. And if we don’t use that as the foundational rule, it can be very easy to get off target and start reporting data that makes the vendor look better, but doesn’t serve the provider’s needs. I mean, a vendor may say, ‘Gee, we’re really good at 500 beds and up, and you ought to measure it that way,’ but most providers don’t necessarily care that that’s a break point.

There are just different ways you can slice data, and we get pressure sometimes to move one way or the other. We also have pressure from vendors to take their name out of the pool, they don’t want to be measured. We’ve been threatened many times by vendors who say, ‘Hey, we don’t want you to measure us,’ and we go ahead and do it anyway.

AG: Tell me about some ways you deal with that pressure. How do you push back?

KG: For example, there are times when vendors will threaten to sue us and our approach is well, we’ll give you a couple of hours to talk you through our methodology, we’ll try to help you understand, but the minute we start becoming so nervous about this, so now we spend all our time defending ourselves, now we’ve taken our eye off what’s best for the provider. We say, ‘Here’s how much time we’re willing to help you understand this, if you don’t understand it at the end of this period, go and sue,’ but we’re going to keep doing our job because we can’t get the verdict from our job trying to satisfy the vendor’s appetite. So we have to be very careful to not let the vendors push us around.

AG: I would imagine some vendors are very aggressive with you, while others don’t do anything. Is that true?

KG: What happens is the larger vendors that really could have an impact on us with pressure, realize that that blows up in their face because now of all sudden KLAS starts reporting this vendor is pushing us around and that just blows right up in their own face. They probably know that’s not a good idea.

And we have to be meticulous. We have multiple levels of quality check. In fact, I was just was on the phone before I talked to you, to a large organization, they said, ‘How do you keep this from being an American Idol contest, in which you just get a whole bunch of a vendor’s best customers calling you and trying to give you a positive story?’