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CIO Unplugged 8/25/10

August 25, 2010 Ed Marx 87 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

A Sacred Calling

“The Human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in giving of one’s self to others that we truly live.”

— Ethel Percy Andrus

Someone asked our chief medical information officer, Ferdinand Velasco, MD, why he would leave his skyrocketing career as a cardiac surgeon at New York-Presbyterian to become CMIO at TexasHealth. I will never forget his answer: “As a heart surgeon, I could help about 200 people per year. As CMIO, I am helping the 6.2 million people in our region.”

Whether we give direct care or support someone who does, we are fulfilling a sacred calling — touching human lives. Don’t discount information technology because it’s only computer stuff and nobody really knows where cyberspace is anyway. You could’ve practiced IT in any industry, yet you chose healthcare. Or perhaps healthcare chose you.

Sacred callings come in various forms. Although healthcare IT is nothing unique in itself, the element of sanctity is why I stay. If we want to live a life of significance, we must understand the depth of our calling and then perform as if our work matters. Grasp the privilege of serving humanity with your skills and talents. That is sacred.

In using our hands for work — answering service desk calls, pulling cables, creating order sets, managing projects, developing strategies, creating apps — we are helping care for the patients and clinicians. We’re telling them, “You are important to us and we value you.”

Stop for a moment. Re-read the above paragraph then hold your hands in front of you. While studying your hands, reflect on what they do each day that contributes to caring for the health needs in your community. Seriously. Have you not chosen to bless others through the work of your hands?

Wherever people are involved (life), challenges and frustrations exist. Healthcare is beset with issues. What can keep us focused during those difficult circumstances is remembering our purpose.

Let me share with you one recent technique we developed to maintain the heart-to-head connection.

Blessing of the Hands

It is not unusual for hospitals to conduct non-denominational “Blessing of the Hands” ceremonies. Here is video example from MetroHealth in Cleveland.

I had seen this done for clinicians at one of our hospitals and it got me thinking. What about IT? What we do is no less critical to the healing process. Our hands may not touch patients, but they do touch their lives in ways unseen. Arguably, IT is the only segment that touches the entire healthcare continuum.

 8-25-2010 6-09-02 PM

I contacted our chaplains, and they were excited about the concept. For the first time this spring, we conducted a Blessing of the Hands ceremony exclusively for IT. The chaplains first shared with our team the sanctity of what we do in serving people and the impact we have on the lives of both patients and caregivers. They prayed over us. They prayed a blessing over a special vial of oil then used it to anoint our hands.

8-25-2010 6-10-05 PM

One at a time, we rose from our seats and approached the chaplains. While we held open our hands, they anointed them and gave us each a verbal blessing. I sat back down and simply soaked in the moment. I imagine many others encountered the same refreshing.

All I can say is that it was a holy moment for all who chose to participate, regardless of their religious orientation or belief system. We emerged inspired and empowered. We walked out of there knowing that we were making a difference in lives every day.

No matter what your area (supplier, payor, or provider), I highly encourage you, the leader, to make this voluntary ceremony available for your teams. You’ll witness a demonstrable impact and you’ll be reminded that what you do is significant. Your calling is sacred.


Here is a sample Blessing of the Hands prayer. A simple Bing search will bring up other samples.

· Blessed be these hands that have touched life.

· Blessed be these hands that have felt pain.

· Blessed be these hands that have embraced with compassion.

· Blessed be these hands that have been clinched with anger or withdrawn in fear.

· Blessed be these hands that have drawn blood and administered medicine.

· Blessed be these hands that have cleaned beds and disposed of wastes.

· Blessed be these hands that have anointed the sick and offered blessings.

· Blessed be these hands that grow stiff with age.

· Blessed be these hands that have comforted the dying and held the dead.

· Blessed be these hands that develop applications that improve quality of care.

· Blessed be these hands that answer the phone and empathize while solving issues.

· Blessed be these hands that reprogram the broken network.

· Blessed be these hands that enable life-saving technology.

· Blessed be these hands, we hold the future in these hands.

· Blessed be our hands for they are the work of Your hands, O Holy One.


Update 8/29/10

I appreciate all the comments. Thank you.

The point I do not want readers to miss is to know that what we do in healthcare IT is significant, impacting the health of our communities and nation.

You can broaden the definition of spiritual to include your overall sense of purpose and mission. For me it is birthed in my faith. For others it will take on a different look, but either way I maintain that healthcare IT is sacred work.

As long as your views are not forced on others or go against the values/culture of your employer, I see no reason not to allow for individual expression. I happen to work for a faith-based health system and enjoy the freedom this brings to everyone, regardless of religious or secular orientation.


Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites
LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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87 Responses to “CIO Unplugged 8/25/10”

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  1. 87
    Smalltown CIO Says:

    I wanted to let you know Ed that it is very refreshing to know there are people practicing their faith in the real world. While you certainly have attracted a number of aggressive nay-sayers, your intent was very kind-spirited and the way you presented it should have been taken as very non-threatening by anyone reading it. Why all of the mean-spiritedness? Is that really necessary when Ed had nothing but the very best intentions? Even if you don’t believe in the methodology presented, does he deserve the rath some of you sent his way?

    Your blog entry was very inspirational Ed – no problems here!

  2. 86
    Tim Ellis Says:

    “When the time comes that I have to depend on someone else (physician, nurse, EMT, etc.) to care for me, I pray that it is someone of faith who does not assume that their knowledge and power is without limit and is afraid to turn to God for assistance.”

    Yeah, but that won’t actually help you get any better.

    We’re not claiming that science has all the answers. Far from it. But science certainly has SOME answers.

    You know how religion controlled all inquiry for hundreds of years? They call that time the Dark Ages for a reason.

  3. 85
    Indiscriminate Says:

    I’m stunned that this is allowed to happen in a workplace. It’s religious harassment. Religious views should be irrelevant and absent from our workplace.

    As an atheist I feel directly threatened when religion comes up at work. Example: my boss is a very vocal christian and talks about salvation and the evils of non christians all the time. I would be afraid to let him know that I am an atheist for fear of losing a promotion I would otherwise deserve. It’s absolutely no different than sexual harassment. Suppose for a moment that Ed wanted to celebrate heterosexuality by holding a non-required gathering at the workplace to celebrate or promote this. It’s completely reasonable to understand the stress that a homosexual in this environment would feel – and the pressure that might cause them to participate anyway, in order to not be “outed” in the workplace.

    I can’t wait until the first atheist that works for Ed loses his job or promotion and costs the organization millions in a settlement or lawsuit. Good luck with that. I think HR departments need to do more education on Title VII Religious Harassment statutes. They aren’t always consistent but cases less offensive than this one have been affirmed by several courts. In addition, it’s clear that religious affiliated hospitals are not completely exempt from these statutes. Especially for roles like IT where the performance of your work has no relation to your religion.

    I have no problems with others who are spiritual or religious – in fact, my own wife is. But having to worry about my livelihood because I don’t play the game is ridiculous.

    Keep religion out of the workplace completely.

    Oh, and I think I am going to start requiring a statement from my physicians and surgeons that they are not religious. The ones that have spoken out here scare me. Please use science in treating me and not prayers.

  4. 84
    Independent Says:

    Interesting comments, but oh so sad in witnessing the “exposure” of our “Godless” society (regardless of ones beliefs) as it is highlighted here.

    “Faith” is a powerful tool for those who possess and embrace it. I am sure a majority of those here can spout years of clinical experience and examples of divine intervention, as well as its absence (myself; 38 yrs & I believe I have seen it all in my adult-neonatal Critical Care & ED life).

    As a survivor of a rare cancer, I recall sliding from the comfort of my Hill-Rom, to my knees, (lines-and-all) at 3am to pray… Not that I be spared the suffering, or lobby to live; but instead, that I be given the strength to endure whatever awaited my fate “based on my Gods will…”. a nurse happen to pass by my isolation room & helped me from my knees as I was slumping to the floor. I was informed that it was the next day I slipped into a state of unconsciousness for two days with a WBC <300.

    I have no idea if that nurse "blessed her hands" prior to her shift and quite honestly I don't care, but I did appreciate her "compassion" as I recall the tears in her eyes as her petite 5'1" frame assisted my 185 lbs of near dead-wt.

    My point is simple as I have witnessed CV surgeons openly pray prior to the first incision. Not that they be able to save or cure their pt ; but instead, that their God guide their hands while optimizing their training… and yes, some eyes rolled, while other's closed in reverence & respect.

    It all comes down to demonstrating a mutual respect for ones beliefs, or lack of. I watched a patient pronounced & disconnected from a P-B, to later witness the elderly wife re-enter the room 20-min later to sprinkle water from the River Jordon over his body. I can't pretend to know what was going thru her mind at the time, be it a simple blessing or wishful faith in prayer that her husband would be returned to her for one last expression of love…? but within 2-minutes he gasped for air and returned to life, leaving his wife chanting to her God & his caretakers in disbelief.

    Who are we to judge other's faith? Be it "blessing of hands", "sprinkling river water"…"fairy dust" or carrying a rabbits-foot prior to entering a patients or server room, it doesn't matter, because its "personal", and last I checked, we have a Constitutional right to worship (or not), as we wish.

    We as human's have been given a "free will" to carry out our lives as we choose, without divine intervention, knowing for the most part what is right and what is wrong… making us all vulnerable to how our practitioners, airline pilots, etc. approach their daily tasks with our lives in their hands. Mistakes are made daily and as one poster noted (& I concur), despite all the innovative technology and science available to us, there hasn't been a significant decline in mortality rates.

  5. 83
    Ozymandias Says:

    Having spent a lot of time with doctors, even those at the top of their field, I tend to think many of them are not the people of science that you would expect. There are a few exceptions, but…..

    Many times, they just haven’t got a clue, so they just go textbook and hope for a favorable outcome. Many are not capable of analytical thought, therefore they can’t think outside the box. Nor do they listen to their patients, even if the patient is highly informed. Any doctor I tell I that am an engineer usually gets the response that we are the worst patients (we ask too many questions and demand too many facts). They like to live in their godlike state.

    So, this blessing nonsense comes as no surprise to me. As Dr. McCoy would likely say, medicine in this century is still in the Dark Ages. Perhaps some humility, a good dose of science, and as some people have already pointed out, some meticulous hand-washing is in order.

  6. 82
    KMG Says:

    Many of us in IT are quite confident in our skills and delivering solutions to those we serve. Sometimes overconfident, and we can be quite condescending and impatient in our interactions with users. Ed Marx has suggested that we, as IT people, take pause, look at ourselves, realize that we are human, and that we do indirectly affect patient care. While our role is an important and noble purpose, we are not super heroes. We are mere mortals, and speaking for those of us that are spiritual, we take comfort that we don’t face challenges alone. Faith is what gets many of us through the crises in our lives, which can happen quite often in the workplace. Washing our hands is an easy, individual, human effort that any of us can do to prevent infections. Taking pause to have them blessed upon occasion, is a good way to remind us of the blessing they bring to those we serve. It is a chance for us to wash some internal dust away as well. If I lost my hands, or just my job, my faith would help me get through it. So I’ll keep washing my hands, And pressing them together in prayer. Namaste

  7. 81
    Surprised Says:

    This posting and this commentary is timely given the current state of this country. While I recognize that a lot of individuals benefit from a strong faith, in the course of history religion has done more to divide humanity than bring it together.

    Today, a ridiculous 20% of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. This isn’t the same as 20% of Americans thinking Reagan was one Christian denomination vs. another; the 20% of Americans that think Obama is a Muslim hate him for it. It is a smear to be a Muslim to these Americans and many others. The United States is becoming a more divided nation today than ever before and religion is being used as the wedge. Glenn Beck’s rally this weekend was mostly about how faith will save America (presumably, belief in God, a Christian God, will kick Obama out of the WH and the Democrats out of the majority).

    I don’t share Ed’s faith. I don’t worship a God. That said, I don’t live for myself and I do care about the World I will one day leave. I believe in man and I believe in community (humanist?). Professionally, I do care about what I do and the impact it has on others.

    I know Ed from a previous career and while I’ve always know he was very religious, I’m surprised and a little disappointed that he brought this to the workplace. Even if participation was optional, I would be uncomfortable working for him after this.

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