I mentioned in last week’s EP Talk that I’m preparing to sit for the Clinical Informatics board exam next month. At the board review course I attended recently, there were several comments about the recommended reading list published by the American Board of Preventive Medicine. At some point during the last few months it grew from something like six books to a dozen, plus relevant journal articles. Luckily I came into the process a little on the later side, so the list has already been its current length. Being the compulsive over-preparer that I am, I had decided a couple of months ago to at least make the attempt to read all of them.
The first challenge was cost. Many of the books on the list are textbooks. Renting them, buying them used, or getting the Kindle editions would have been over $1,000. I hit my local library website and found that only one was available – John Kotter’s Leading Change. If you deal with IT implementations, project management, or anything related to healthcare or healthcare IT and haven’t read this book, you should add it to your list. It’s quick – only 200 pages – and explains some key elements of projects that involve change. His eight reasons that change efforts fail are often visible in projects I encounter, which continues to surprise me when no one seems to have made attempts to remediate them.
Although the overall cost was a concern, so was the cost of some of the individual texts. I didn’t want to get stuck with a bunch of expensive books that I’m not sure I would use again (even if they were electronic and wouldn’t be hanging out on my bookcase) so I decided to go old school with my studying. I’m a good 25 miles from my nearest academic medical library, so I decided to request them through my local public library. Allow me to just say that Inter-Library Loan is a thing of beauty. Before long, I had many happy emails telling me that books were ready. The first one came in from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and it soon became a little game to see where they would be coming from. Unfortunately their arrival was a little unpredictable, and receiving three thick texts at the same time was giving me unpleasant flashbacks of my first year of medical school.
The second challenge in reading some of the materials was their age. Some of the books on the list were written more than 15 years ago. I enjoyed taking a ride in the Wayback Machine while skimming through the chapters on how computers became part of the healthcare landscape and learning more about some of the foundational systems for clinical care. Except for when I was a Candy Striper, computers have always played a role in patient care during my career even if it was just a lab information system. It was fun to see the pictures of some of the early information systems as well as the sideburns that went with them.
Nearly all of them were written in a world before Meaningful Use. In some ways, that was a less complicated age, even if the tools were less sophisticated. Some of the texts are more targeted towards administrators or non-clinicians and it was interesting to see what people on the other side of the street think or know about what we do.
The third challenge was dealing with the fact that I had the readings in textbook format. It’s been a long time since I turned the pages of anything thicker than a good mystery novel. After a week or so of reading, I had a muscle spasm in my neck that didn’t do much for my concentration. One of my Australian colleagues had given me The Book Seat as a gift and I have to say it was a lifesaver for propping those 800-page books at an angle that made them easy to read. I also ran across one book about informatics in public health that was printed in a typeface that was blurry and distracting. I’m not sure if it was just the copy I had and since it was from the University of Ontario it wasn’t like I could just run out and get another copy, so I had to power through it.
Forcing myself to try to read all the books was an experience in discipline. It reminded me how often all of us have to multitask and how little time most workplaces allow for intellectual pursuits. I thought about a couple of presentations that I had given over the last year or so that could have been more powerful had I included some of the concepts from the readings. Although some of the books were more general than I expected, it’s nice to know about them and to be able to recommend them when people ask about “getting into informatics” or how computers impact healthcare. I’d recommend Thomas Payne’s Practical Guide to Clinical Computing Systems: Design, Operations, and Infrastructure for physicians and other clinicians who have been volunteered as the clinical champion on a project or who don’t have a lot of experience with computers.
One of the books I most enjoyed reading was one of the ones that came last – Health Care Information Systems: A Practical Approach for Health Care Management. In addition to some IT fundamentals, authors Wager, Lee, and Glaser include a lot of information about structure and management of IT organizations. That topic won’t necessarily be on the test, but it should be required reading for groups who have trouble delivering solutions on time and on budget. There are some solid discussions of project management, goal setting, and accountability in there that are worth the time to read and share.
Several of the books I ended up skimming through because I felt comfortable with the material – I should do well on the architecture and infrastructure parts of the exam. Others I read a little slower because I needed to do some brushing up or because they had chapters by people I know in the real world. It’s always more interesting to read something a friend has written, especially when you find quirky phrases or descriptions that remind you of how they speak in person.
The major benefit of doing the formal board review course and reading the texts was being able to link the knowledge I’ve built from experience back to the scholarly material describing it. I can rattle off a lot of real-world information about change management, but I’m sure being able to link various techniques back to their formal names and methodologies will be helpful for answering boards-type questions. A couple of us joked about whether they should have offered an oral board exam. That would really help an examining body determine whether we’re qualified to handle the trickier situations we encounter on a daily basis.
I promised some informatics humor, so I’ll leave you with this quote from Thomas Payne at the University of Washington. It’s such a simple assessment, but given the things I’ve seen in the last week, it makes me laugh: “It’s great to have an EMR. It’s even better if you use it.” Here’s to all the great users out there and a special thanks to the library staff across the country that helped the books find their way to Casa Jayne.