#HIMSS15: On Being Human

purple clover

After attending HIMSS, everyone asks “What was the *biggest* theme this year?”  But this blog is not about that.  This blog is about the murmurs.  The soft undercurrent of a theme running through the speaker sessions, the social media streams, and conversations preceding and following the event.  I don’t know if I would have even made the connections if I had been there in person, with the noise of the floor, the long line for Starbucks, and the ever-attractive bling from the vendors.

But quietly sitting in my home office, I listened.  I listened to the live online sessions and the recorded sessions, I read the blogs and engaged on twitter….and as I did, I started to hear it.  Like the Whos down in Whoville calling out from their speck, the more I listened the louder it became.  “Be Human” people said.  “Be real.”

The first murmur may have been from Mary P. Griskewicz, MS, FHIMSS, HIMSS Senior Director in her blog A portal is not patient engagement in which she states “true patient engagement requires providers to listen to and make the patient part of the process.  It also requires patients to actively participate in the care process, have access to and, the ability to inform their health data and, partner with their care providers for patient engagement to be successful.”

Now, if you stand in the middle of the exhibit hall floor, you would think that this is a conference just about technology.  What I heard was a little different.  What I heard calling out from that speck was “Well actually, this is about people.  This is about health.”

Luke Webster, MD talked about changing the role of the C-suite CMIO from one that reviews and approves technology to one where the C-Suite is “Focusing on the people, the process and the change more than the technology.”  In the same session, Pam Arlotto said the CHIO is a strategy position “Redesigning care around what a patient needs, not around technology.”

At this point, I was starting my own Amen corner in my office.  This was good stuff.  These are board tables that I want to sit at and the conversations I want to be involved in.  This is going to be what changes healthcare: being human.

I was watching the twitter feed of the #HITMC (Health IT Marketing Chat) live meetup where John Lynn was quoted as saying “Be worth following.  Be human.  People want to follow humans.”  This is true not just in the arena of social media, but in organizations as well.  If you walk into any healthcare organization and say “this is the proven methodology and this is how I am doing it” without taking the time to understand the organization you are walking into, your plan is destined to fail.

Linda Stotsky tweeted “#PatientData #patientengagement is about #human interactions – not about #MeaningfulUse check boxes #IHeartHIT bc #patients matter #HIMSS15

In my consulting life, I hear providers talk about the computer in the room as a huge barrier.  It sits between them and their patient, diverting their focus from the patient to the monitor.  It looms large in their minds and it affects their ability to connect with their patient…and to be human.

first portable computer

I think back to visiting my father at work when I was a kid (this will date me), and I can remember these enormous IBM mainframes with tape.  They were writing all their information to tape, and my Dad was so proud of those massive machines.  The reporters were wary when green screen computers replaced their typewriters.  In his lifetime he watched the newspaper business go from an offset ink printing system with metal plates to fully computerized layout and publishing. It was a dramatic technological change to take the newspaper digital – and it wasn’t easy.  Dad loved the smell of the ink and the characters on the composing room floor, and even as he rode the wave of change, he was also sad to see parts of it go.  He used to jokingly call his job title the “Director in charge of new fun stuff” and he would bring home technological marvels to test at the kitchen table, like a portable computer that must have weighed 30 lbs.  Luckily for the newspaper, their “Director in charge of new fun stuff” was a newspaper man.  He had worked every job in small town papers and he never forgot that these were tools to get the job done.  He loved technology, but it had to have the right utility, be introduced at the right time, and keep in partnership with the people who would be using it in order to be successful.

Technology is changing at such a rapid pace in not just healthcare but in our lives, that it seems almost radical to say “Be human.”  We have daily conversations in my household about the amount of time family members (myself included) spend on devices vs. spend outside, and now we even have devices to encourage us to be outside and active.  My kids come home and ask how many steps I have taken and how many followers I have on twitter.  I have to occasionally take stock, think about my priorities, and make sure I throw the football around in the yard or go on a hike in the woods.

The same is true in healthcare today.  Things are changing so rapidly, we are capable of so much – we can map a human genome, we can not only create an electronic record, but we have teams that can then take that record and convert it to another software platform or upload it to an HIE.  We have wearables and Bluetooth connections and hotspots.

Sometimes, the fancy toys and new fun stuff can be so all-consuming like that trade show floor that we can lose sight of the goal.  The goal is health.  The goal is supporting our providers and their teams in providing excellent healthcare.  The goal is tools that enhance the delivery of care and increase our medical knowledge.  The goal is not for technology to be a real or perceived barrier between provider and patient, but to be a supportive aspect of their relationship.

The most basic part of being human is being present and listening.  This has an extreme amount of value, especially in times of dramatic change and situations that call for collaboration.  We need to be nimble, but we also need to be thoughtful, attentive, and make sure we are delivering the right solutions at the right time.

This is also part of why I am so glad to be in HealthIT and to be working for a company like Galen Healthcare.  We do for sure have fun cool stuff, and I will be the first to tell you about our products and services.  We are also a company and a team that knows the value of being human.  Of meeting our clients where they are, listening, and using our expertise in conjunction with their vision to turn the corner to where they want to be.

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  1. 2
    Dhaval Gogate

    True words, as someone who once interacted with patients – in the outpatient department, in the out reach camp and even in a retail setting – being a human mattered a lot to patients. After all, only a human can be a doctor, not the computer.

    It’s good to see that we are going back to our roots – of being humans first than some data entry operators.

    Thanks Max, enjoyed the article!

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