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How Are Your Inter-Species Language Skills?

July 20, 2011
by Mark Hagland
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Moving Forward on Every Important Healthcare it Initiative will Require Reaching Out Across Multiple Disciplines and Professional Groups
Mark Hagland
Mark Hagland

One of the more memorable moments in American cinematic history from the past half-century is the opening scene in the first Star Wars film (1977), in which our hero Luke Skywalker enters an intergalactic bar on the desert world of Tatooine. What makes this scene particularly entertaining is a goofy kind of knowingness around Luke's being taken a bit aback by the incredible diversity of different species of creatures gathered around the bar at Chalmun's Spaceport Cantina (thanks, Google!!). “Who are all these folks?” we can see Luke's eyes asking, as he stares in wonder at the motley assemblage. And what sorts of languages do they speak, anyway??

Do you ever feel like this at work? If you don't, you're a member of a very small minority indeed. That's because healthcare, with its complex and rather balkanized history, often feels like an assemblage of people from different planets, all arriving in quite different types of spaceships for their intergalactic meetings. Doctors and nurses, pharmacists and therapists, health information management professionals and IT managers, finance people and physician recruiters-every group has its own language, norms, understandings, culture. And many decades of self-segregation, and often, misunderstandings, have deepened the moats between each.

Of course, the fact that every clinical discipline and most of the professional specialties have evolved as guilds of specialists and subspecialists doesn't help, either. The necessity of healthcare professionals-both clinical and non-clinical-needing to master extremely profound pools of knowledge and skills necessarily creates silos not only of knowledge but of interpersonal understanding, as well as of culture.

But now, at a time when every worthy initiative, whether clinical, non-clinical, or a mix of both, requires the collaboration of broad teams of highly trained professionals from diverse disciplines, in order to succeed, means that those patient care organizations making the real breakthroughs on behalf of their patients and communities are having to find ways to break through those barriers of communication and culture.

Recognizing and covering such organizations and their successful initiatives is a particularly gratifying part of what we do at Healthcare Informatics. And it was wonderful to collaborate as a team with the leaders of AMDIS in order to establish the first-ever Healthcare Informatics/AMDIS IT Innovation Advocate Award program earlier this year.

As has become clear in our coverage on our website and in this magazine, the first-, second-, and third-place winning multidisciplinary teams in this awards program-hailing from Anchorage, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh, respectively-all came together to achieve important things, and all overcame “inter-species” communications and cultural challenges in order to achieve those things, as did all the honorable teams submitting to the program.

Last month, we brought you an interview with Cecilee Ruesch, R.N., the team lead in the Providence Alaska Medical Center eICU initiative; this month, you can find out what Vinay Vaidya, M.D., and his colleagues at Phoenix Children's Hospital have achieved in the pediatric dosaging area. Next, we'll bring you the story of the SmartRoom initiative at UPMC, led by Carol Scholle, R.N.

In every case, these clinician and clinical informatics leaders have broken through old barriers to create important new advances. And if they can do that, so can you. May the force be with you!

Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief Healthcare Informatics 2011 August;28(8):06

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