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CIO Unplugged 2/29/12

February 29, 2012 Ed Marx 9 Comments

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

Are You an Insider?

My siblings and I took a beating from our peers because of the Bavarian clothes our parents insisted we wear long after our arrival in USA. We were, however, embraced on the futbol pitch. The seven of us kids had the benefit of growing up on the soccer field in Germany. When we arrived here in the mid ‘70s, American soccer was in its infancy. Coaches welcomed our soccer finesse, experience, and smarts. It took time for our teammates to accept us foreigners who played with a different style, but our impact proved undeniable.

What was good for those teammates is equally good for IT.

One of my first healthcare jobs held a single yet challenging objective: “make docs happy.” In that competitive environment, physician loyalty was paramount. My role was one-third ombudsman, one-third consultant, and one-third party planner.

I loved it. I met with physicians daily to make sure their concerns and ideas were appropriately vetted with hospital administration. I dived deep into practice management and provided consulting services ranging from business development to system selection to establishing regional CME events. The most enjoyable aspect was organizing some serious parties to celebrate accomplishments and recognize the medical staff and their contributions to our healthcare system.

Despite my established healthcare background, I transitioned into the position of IT director as an outsider. I brought with me a different skill set. I viewed things differently from my tradition- oriented IT peers.

It was not easy for me or my new cohorts at first, but we helped each other. Mixing outsider perspective and experience with solid IT operations made for a dynamic environment resulting in vastly improved performance and outcomes.

As a believer in the diversity approach, I’ve purposefully sought to develop teams comprised of traditional and non-traditional workers. In a former post, “Got Clinicians?” I share the absolute necessity for ensuring appropriate clinical insights. Now I aim to encourage you to build a healthy mix of non-healthcare experienced talent into your fold.

Most would agree that healthcare, conservative by culture, is three to five years behind the technology curve. Bringing in outsiders who have worked in progressive industries such as finance or international business will help push the organization forward and help ensure currency. Not just currency, but also what is on the horizon. A couple of the chief technical officers I’ve hired have had zero healthcare experience. On both occasions, my organizations experienced a massive technological bounce.

Promoting only from within will continue to retard the growth curve as compared to other industries. It’s all about striking that healthy balance.

So, what about you and me? Even outsiders eventually become insiders. How do we stay fresh and think with the objectivity of an outsider? Spend at least 50% of your learning outside of healthcare.

Some methods to avoid becoming a healthcare IT junkie:

  • Conferences. Choose wisely. Skip HIMSS every other year and go to the consumer electronics show instead. You will see things that will eventually be shown at HIMSS three years later.
  • Blogs. Read posts that are on the bleeding edge.
  • Magazines. Check your subscriptions. At least half should be outside of healthcare and, of course, a high percentage should be business and non-technical.
  • Peers. Spend time with non-healthcare peers. I previously posted on how we compare notes regularly with companies in different verticals. Next up, Kimberly-Clark.
  • Organizations. Actively participate in professional groups such as SIM where you are exposed to peers from across industries.
  • Hiring. Keep yourself on your toes by hiring outsiders who are smarter than you.
  • Diversity. Don’t hire your twin
  • Advisory boards. Participate in those that are vertical agnostic.

Fitting in to please everyone is a worthless pursuit. Avoid that temptation. Hiring outsiders is healthy for your team. This will create more opportunity as new technologies are transferred to the team. Hiring outsiders is beneficial to your organization as you begin to deploy new tools that will enable mission fulfillment. Hiring outsiders advances healthcare. You’ll leverage technology and help reduce the cost of healthcare, elevate patient and clinician satisfaction, and ultimately improve the quality of care.

Most of us German-transplant kids had successful soccer careers in high school and beyond. We helped our coaches take our teams to the next level. Goal! And for at least a few hours each week, we were free from our lederhosen.

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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Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. Good post.
    I worry that the involvement of the government and regulatory agencies are driving out true innovation for the medical record.
    It’s trapped in an antiquated paradigm, and most of what we consider “the chart” is redundant, unnecessary or silo’ed as each caregiving point is constrained to requirements which may be well-meaning but nevertheless are trapped in very old paradigms.
    Here’s the summary for HIMSS this year: “Meaningful Use, meaningfully connected.”
    Both are still hype, but they are so overwhelming that the EHR itself is more dysfunctional than ever.
    We’ll never get a fresh approach because it will never pass muster with the Central Committees. Didn’t work for the Soviets and won’t work for us.

  2. Don’t discount the skills and IT aptitude of “insider clinicians”. We’re smarter and more versatile than you think.

  3. Thanks, Ed for a great post. Siege sage, Siege sage, hoj, hoj as they used to say in Muenchen. BTW, they do wear long legged Lederhosen on motorcycles. Take care and hope to see you soon.

  4. Great post ED! I once heard of a guy who used waitresses to gather information from his internal customers. They were use to asking questions, reading their customers, and most importantly, listening.

  5. Re: “Skip HIMSS every other year and go to the consumer electronics show instead. You will see things that will eventually be shown at HIMSS three years later.”

    Agree. But suggest that you add AMIA to the rotation. The clinical informatics ideas seen there also show up at HIMSS several years later.

  6. It was pleasure discovering today that we have similar childhood “transplant experiences” however, in reverse. Dallas to Zurich in 1958 and then back home to Dallas in 1962.

    Having grown up around physicians in the family in the 70’s and starting my career with the early pioneers in healthcare IT, in the 1980’s, including Infostat and Health Data Sciences, it is extremely exciting to the work you are your colleagues are doing at THR and to see the vision for the transformation of healthcare in the U.S. finally happening.

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