Updated January 2013
Readers sometimes ask for more information about me and the standards I use to write HIStalk. This is my story.
Why I Started HIStalk
I started writing HIStalk in 2003 simply to collect my thoughts about what was going on in the industry, which was important to my IT job. Readership grew slowly, which surprises me to this day, and I had no sponsors. While I can’t afford to make HIStalk a full-time job, it provides me with much of my personal satisfaction, so I contribute a lot of time and energy toward making it as interesting and useful as I can.
We could start a minor controversy arguing whether it’s pronounced HIZZtalk or H-I-S talk. I had the latter in mind when I started it, but I’m not offended by the former.
Why I’m Anonymous
I work for a non-profit hospital that has vendor relationships with some of the companies I write about. My objectivity (and potentially my job security) could be compromised if vendors or anybody else worked that connection to muzzle me. If you wrote a letter to the editor of your local newspaper railing in detail about how bad your hospital vendor is, even though you signed it with just your name, I bet you would still forcefully hear from your boss when that vendor complained (using the “I thought we were partners” argument, probably). Nobody at my place of work knows that I write HIStalk and I prefer to keep it that way.
I write better without that pressure. It also takes away any opportunity for anyone to influence me personally with offers of trips, consulting work, speaking engagements, etc. Writing HIStalk is my one and only “business” outside of my hospital job and I have no hidden agenda or secret connections. Unlike some other bloggers, I’m not trying to sell my consulting services or products, I’m not interested in stroking my ego via speaking engagements, I don’t work for a vendor, and I don’t run other businesses. It’s all right there on the page.
I think that’s a pure arrangement. I’m the writer, editor, and publisher, so you don’t have to wonder what influence went into a particular story or interview. I’ve been writing this for many years now, so after millions of words, you have everything you need to assess my credibility. If you’re one of those people who say, “I can’t believe what you write because I don’t know you,” then I’ll ask: who wrote the articles in this morning’s newspapers, or the stories read on the TV news by the talking head news guy?
Being anonymous also gives me an excuse to keep a distance from vendors, sponsors, and muckety-mucks. I do not meet with people, I do not take their calls, and I don’t schmooze. I return e-mails, but I keep everybody at arm’s length. When I go to HIMSS, I’m just a regular attendee paying my own way and I tactfully turn down any requests to meet with me, attend private demos, meet sponsor people, etc.
Who is Involved
This is not even a small company. It’s just me working part-time after my day job with some help. Inga is a key player since she writes, interviews, and handles the sponsor paperwork and relationships. I pay her to do that, but it’s far from a full-time job. Dr. Jayne writes the Curbside Consult and EPtalk pieces, Lt. Dan does the headlines, and Donna works behind the scenes to look for sponsor announcements that we might want to mention. That’s the whole crew. I answer the e-mails, manually manage the software behind the scenes (Web publishing, e-mail blasts, ad server, and my primitive Google Docs list of which ads are running). Guest authors aren’t paid, although I appreciate their contributions.
People ask if I have a sales force, which is pretty funny. I don’t even mention in HIStalk that companies can sponsor — they have to figure that out themselves.
Here’s how sponsorship works. Someone e-mails me and says, “Send me a sponsor packet,” which is a primitive Word doc turned into a PDF file that Inga and I threw together with some reader survey information, site traffic information, and some reader quotes. The recipient either deletes it or e-mails back and says, “We want to sponsor.” I send them an invoice and a document to sign that say they get no special privileges. They send a check and e-mail me their ad. I load the ad to the adserver and mention in HIStalk that I have a new sponsor. That’s it. I do not talk to anyone by telephone or chit-chat by e-mail. It’s a low-service model.
What’s cool is that sponsors don’t expect anything more. As corny as it sounds, they often just like what I do and volunteer to support me.
I have several years of experience as a hospital clinical department head. I worked for a vendor for several years in a customer support and analysis role with a good deal of programming and also some marketing and demo support. I wrote some tiny software products on the side many years ago and sold them to a few hospitals (I was pretty much a marginally unsuccessful vendor in that regard, but it was spare bedroom programming stuff). I’ve been an IT director in some big IDNs, covering most areas of IT. I’m an informatics guy.
I’ve taken personality tests at work (HR team-building fluff). Here’s one of my results, which I would say is quite accurate: “You are quiet, serious, and earn success by thoroughness and dependability. You are practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible. You decide logically what should be done and work… toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. You take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized – your work, your home, and your life. You value traditions and loyalty. ”
Conflicts of Interest
I own no shares of stock or any other financial interest in any HIT-related company. My investments are managed in a wrap account, traded without my oversight or interest. I don’t check them often since I don’t like watching them go down in value. Unlike most IT executives you know, I do not receive free meals, trips, or honoraria from any organization, although I wouldn’t necessarily see those as a conflict of interest since I’m not dazzled by any of them. I don’t speak at conferences or on behalf of any vendor. I have no business interests outside of HIStalk. All payments received for HIStalk are for plainly visible sponsorship. Other than that, I work for a paycheck in my academic medical center day job, which I keep separate from my HIStalk work as much as possible.
I scrupulously avoid financial offers that would compromise readers. I don’t sell the e-mail blast list or accept advertising in it. I turn down offers to contribute content elsewhere — everything I know or think is right here. I don’t even talk to people who want me to make HIStalk a pay site or have it be under the control of a publishing or vendor company. I’m not saying this because I’m rich, but because I spend little; I don’t need the money. HIStalk is my hobby, my little business, and all I do in my spare time, so I’m not going to screw that up for cash that I wouldn’t know how to spend anyway.
Vendor Bias from Experience
I’ve worked with many vendors over the years and have general feelings about them from experience as their customer. Most of them are neutral. Those that aren’t: McKesson (negative), QuadraMed (positive), Eclipsys/Allscripts (positive), and Epic (positive). No others raise any emotion from me, either positive or negative, so I’m generally dispassionate in reporting about them.
Readers provide a good deal of the content and content ideas of HIStalk. This takes the form of e-mails and Rumor Reports, both of which I encourage and value greatly. However, discretion on what to use and how to use it is mine exclusively. I often use reader information exactly as it was submitted, although I reserve the right to edit it for length, clarity, or style appropriate for HIStalk readership.
The most common reasons I don’t use material or change it substantially are: (a) it would not interest the average HIStalk reader; (b) it makes a statement that is factually suspicious or unprovable; (c) it’s too long and unfocused; (d) multiple readers provided the same information; (e) I plan to use the information later, after further research; (f) the information is openly critical of someone I’ve interviewed for HIStalk, which I feel is inappropriate since they volunteered to be a guest for the benefit of HIStalk readers.
I don’t provide investment advice and I don’t talk with investment people who want to take up my time to extract free information they can then sell to others.
I read every e-mail I get and I usually respond, to be polite if for no other reason. I get behind. I spend several hours a day after work doing HIStalk-related stuff and longer on the weekend, so my catch-up days are usually Wednesday and Sunday.
I do not divulge information sources to anyone. I often remove the only record I have of their identity to avoid any chance it will be compromised. I don’t use real names on postings unless they are expressly furnished for that purpose by the submitter. If the material seems to potentially identify the source by writing style or presentation, I’ll change it.
Objectivity and Fairness
I’m pretty factually objective and coolly analytical (that’s a nice way of saying I’m as nerdy and boring as an engineer). I go out of my way to see both sides and to present other viewpoints that support them. I have a strong conscience, so if I decide I was too hard on a company or person, I make it right later. If I say something that is wrong or ill-advised and someone mentions that fact politely in an e-mail, I thank them and correct myself as prominently as when I screwed up in the first place.
I run credible rumors, but I resent having HIStalk called a “gossip site”. I verify when I can, label unverified information clearly, and allow anyone to correct or elaborate who has first-hand knowledge. Given the number of magazine and site publishers that I see trolling HIStalk for ideas (I see the IP logs), I’m pretty sure they find it useful no matter how much disdain they express publicly. The discussion here is also no different than what experienced industry pros (like me and the people I know) would gab about over a beer or on the shuttle bus at HIMSS.
Why I Don’t Read Healthcare and Healthcare IT Magazines and Sites
I don’t find them useful or informative in general and never have. Their writers skew to the young and inexperienced, while their editors and owners are often journeymen, with toes in many industries with healthcare and healthcare IT being just one vertical market in the portfolio. What’s consistent is advertising and the studious avoidance of disappointing those who might place those ads, which means the stories are often reformatted, feel-good vendor fluff pieces.
I’ve never missed a major industry development by not reading these sources. Have you? It’s mostly the same stuff I already covered days or weeks or longer — you can check me by writing down the date you first read something in HIStalk, then see how long mailed magazines take to give you the same story. And in the case of magazines, they have to fill the space between ads and pay writers by the word, so they do not share your goal of being concise.
I also studiously avoid opinion pieces written by people who have never worked in the industry except watching from the sidelines (like reporters and editors). I don’t need someone who formerly worked for a plywood or chocolate magazine telling me what I should think about industry events.
I accept (but do not solicit) sponsorship of HIStalk. Prospective sponsors are told in advance that they will receive no special treatment in return. They are also encouraged to read previous HIStalk writings, particularly any about their company, to make sure they understand the nature of what HIStalk is about. I do not give refunds for sponsors unhappy with my writing, although I may offer them the chance to write a rebuttal (no different than what I would offer to any company that is unhappy with HIStalk statements.)
I do not censor reader comments about sponsors, although I may choose not to run them if they are generally critical without being specific (i.e., “Your sponsor XXX is a bunch of idiots” will probably not be run, but “Your sponsor just laid off 50 people – see this news link” will.) The only editorial advantage I might give a sponsor is that I’ll sometimes run a very short summary of their announcement or press release that wasn’t particularly newsworthy otherwise. I sometimes interview their CEO if they ask, although that’s really true of most companies whose executive has the potential to be interesting.
I don’t write HIStalk for the money, which is a good thing since I did it for years with no sponsors and no income. I do appreciate the benefit of having income so I can afford to pay people to help me and for the technology needed to keep a busy web site running.
The thoughts expressed here are mine alone. Your reading HIStalk acknowledges that the information it contains is not subject to the usual standards of professional journalism. Much of what you read will be opinion, satire, rumor, and speculation unavailable from other sources. You alone are responsible for any actions you take based on this information. HIStalk and the authors make no representations about the information’s accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity and are not liable for errors, omissions, or delays in the information or any losses, injuries, or damages that may arise from its use. Opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent those of their employers, if any, or HIStalk’s sponsors. Reader submissions and comments have not necessarily been validated and their authors may be anonymous or unknown; those submissions and comments do not necessarily represent the views of HIStalk or its authors and the responsibility for those submissions and comments remains with those who wrote them.