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Collective Action 4/5/13

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Make It Personal

Everything is a category, until it becomes personal. At one point in my life, my wife was a category. I was thinking about a wife, dreaming about a wife, looking for a wife, but at that point she was a category in my life, a label “Wife.”  

Then I met Susan. WOW! How blessed was I! When she was just a category, I knew I would love her of course, but not nearly as much as I found out I could. She switched from a category to something very personal.  

The same thing happened with my children. Before they were born, even during the pregnancy of each child, they were categories. We shopped for them and tried to love them before they were born, but to some extent they were still a category. Then the moment comes, the moment that happens so few times in life — you hold your child for the first time. This category suddenly became very personal. 

I read a blog post recently by John D. Halamka MD, CIO at Harvard School Of Medicine. In the post, John shared about the loss of his father. There are other posts on his blog where John talked about how his family prepared for this.  It reminded me of when my father passed in 2008.  As I am sure it did for John when he was with his father in the hospital, healthcare became very personal to me.

In the ICU where my father died, I was looking at tags on equipment, making sure they were safety checked.  The computers on wheels were looked at with scrutiny as I tested to ensure they could at least roll around easily. I wanted so badly to check the PCs to make sure they had antivirus software loaded. I watched as the nurse documented and became frustrated at how long it took the screens to update. At that point, processes, policies, procedures, communication, service, and clinical excellence were all very personal to me.  

When I returned to work at my local hospital, my team of technicians were not happy with me for the first few weeks. I was not only dealing with the passing of my father. The new heightened awareness of service gained on that trip was being unleashed on them.  I wanted to bottle the passion this intense personal experience gave me and carry it with me every day, but eventually the rhythm of everyday life interfered and that sensitivity lessoned.

Making things personal made a difference in my perspective. I thought about how to provide this personal experience to members of the team without them having to go through what John and I went through. How do we make flowsheets, order sets, discharge summaries, wireless access points, and Citrix servers personal?  

As we thought about this, the Clinical Experience program was born. Through a great partnership with clinical leadership, every member of the IS team is able to spend eight hours per quarter on a nursing unit observing. They are not there to fix anything or provide support, although I am sure at times they do. They are there to watch, learn, and gain the insights that only a personal experience can provide.  

There are times when team members get frustrated with this program, as they are busy and don’t want to be interrupted in their own work. We reinforce to them the power of personal experience. We ask others to share specific experiences they had while on the floor and how it impacted their work. 

Leaders promote engagement on many levels, but short of being a clinician on the floor, there is no better way to directly engage with our patients and co-workers than to be right there with them as they participate in the care process. We believe that this periodic change in environment will stir up some creative thinking and lead to great innovations for our hospital.

Bill Rieger is chief information officer at Flagler Hospital of St. Augustine, FL.