HIMSS, Symbol Tables, and Societal ADD
In the credit crisis that shook the US Economy from late 2007 well through 2011, we heard this phrase oft-repeated as a shallow excuse for government to intervene in our allegedly free-market economy: “too big to fail.” The real truth is in a more directed transposition of the phrase, to wit, “too big to succeed.” Texts analyzing the rise and fall of businesses, governments, and even venerable educational institutions often lead to a simple insight: the institution in question somehow became so large that its focus turned inward, and it began to exist to serve itself, instead of its mission, which may have originally been, in the case of government, to protect and serve the people; or in the case of a bank, to build wealth for shareholders by responsibly financing businesses and individuals; or in the case of HIMSS, to serve as a forum for the advancement of the practice of Healthcare Informatics. If I dwell in my most cynical inner self, (there are a lot of people in here, and I haven’t met all of them) the bloated end state of these missions are, respectively, to empower and enrich the politicians, to maximize the finance VP’s bonus, and to keep HIMSS in the center of the Healthcare Information Systems spotlight.
Unfair? Perhaps. But close enough to a truth, or at least a trend, that it will resonate with some who read this. To me, it is simply deja vu all over again. I was at Comdex, the original PC industry trade show, in the 1980′s, when everything was new, when a floppy controller that was a little more efficient could draw hundreds to a booth for demos, or a major upgrade to WordPerfect literally filled the pages of the trade press with oceans of physical, non-biodegradable, non-soy-ink. I was not there when it died a quiet death, some 30 years later, too big for the relevant innovations coming from tiny little startups to rise above the noise level.
Am I a HIMSS-hater? Not in the least. I simply accept that HIMSS has, to me, become a forum for an annual MEDITECH-family-picnic with customers and ecosystem partners I have known across 5 companies and nearly 30 years. I do not expect that any earth-shattering announcements will come from it or that we will learn much that isn’t already widely known in the industry. Indeed, the companies who have been around generally don’t make big announcements at HIMSS for fear they will be drowned out in the surplus of HIMSS-timed product announcements and press releases. We go because you, our customers are there, and an essential part of us doing our job is meeting you where you live. 77 Park Place customers and many of our friends from MEDITECH and the partner ecosystem joined us for a relaxed courtyard dinner at Broussard’s on Monday night, and MEDITECH threw a kick-butt party at Manning’s (as in Archie, Peyton, and Eli, but hey it was cool anyway.) on Tuesday with great music, food, and conversation. If you couldn’t get there, I hope we get to see you at MUSE, the CIO Forum, or at your shop. Other than a problem with city water the first two nights, New Orleans exceeded expectations. The cab lines at the airport were efficiently managed. The city seems cleaner and better for its remarkable recovery from Katrina. I experienced a lot of warm, good-humored service, and I felt a lot safer walking the streets than the last time HIMSS was here. My cabbie told me that a lot of it was a housecleaning of a corrupt city government and police force that took place under two years of joint emergency rule under the State Police and the Army National Guard during the cleanup. Silver linings everywhere.
But I digress. The last few years at HIMSS have made me feel like the industry has the attention span of an XBox-addicted sixteen year old. Two years ago it was all about HIE’s and Interoperability, last year it was all about mobility and getting everything possible onto iPad’s. This year it was about interoperability, mobilization, ACO’s, social media integration, analytics, and ARRA/MU. I love what ARRA and MU have done for physician adoption, but I worry about the whole industry kind of “studying for the test” instead of attending to the core curriculum. Noble initiatives around Patient Safety are still out there, but seem to have been parked on the back burner. Like the society as a whole, the HIMSS crowd seems to want its data in TWEET-sized bites, until the next shiny object comes along.
So where does this leave my cheery report? I think we need to resist the twittersphere-10-second-update-manage-to-the-regulations mentality and give more thought to sustainability in Healthcare IT. There are more unfinished symphonies out there than you can shake a stick at. The industry needs to hear the words I often yell at my sons basketball games: FOCUS and FINISH. Too many well-laid plans die in implementation from lack of vision, under-commitment of resources, poor execution or a little of each. Things worth doing aren’t usually easy. Outcomes worth having require sustained attention
Sometimes I think the brain has some similarity to the way de-duplication on ingest works in Virtual Tape Libraries. By taking in lots of data in long form and mulling it over, our brains develop symbol tables much like VTL’s, where complex thought abstractions are rendered down into mental markers that are short representations of much more data. In turn we can begin to move to higher order thought by mentally linking these abstract ideas together. The key is – we have to ingest the data in raw form before we can abstract it successfully. When I stop typing this, I am going to shut down my iPad, read another chapter of a book printed on paper, then close my eyes and think.
Jim Fitzgerald is EVP of Park Place International.