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Making Rounds

April 30, 2008
by Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief
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HCI's Virtual Hospital Tours are proving that all the calls in the world don't equal one walk around the hospital

To be honest, the idea wasn't mine. But then again, what original ideas are left anyway? I take solace in the fact that the concepts I've borrowed are from really smart people. So when I heard one of my former bosses, Kerry Massaro — now at Advanced Trading magazine (I worked for her on Wall Street and Technology magazine) — was doing “Virtual Trading Floor” photo galleries on her Web site, I listened-up. Initially, I thought her idea wouldn't translate well into our world at HCI, as I imagined a number of HIPAA issues scaring CIOs off. But after I ruminated on it a while, I figured, why not give it a try?

After getting positive reactions from the HCI staff, I decided to offer the proposal up to you, our readers, in HCI's e-newsletter. And, what do you know? In the first four weeks the proposal was broadcast, I received over a dozen e-mails from CIOs eager to showcase the IT they'd put in place. The concept went something like this: With photographer in tow, CIOs would give HCI editors a facility tour, taking snapshots of clinicians using IT to deliver or record patient care. Some of these activities included working in front of touch screen displays or consulting computerized tracking boards, scanning RFID tags on medication packaging or watching videos of heart scans on a PC.

But as with many activities that produce light bulb-over-the-brain moments, the insight I gained from this project came during, not before, its execution. And it came in a two-part message.

Message One — for Journalists

It's critical for reporters to physically spend time in the world they are covering. This may sound obvious but, just like anyone else, reporters can get complacent, being content with phone interviews rather than scheduling face-to-face encounters (kudos to our publisher for green-lighting this idea and the expenses that went along with it). But, as we found during our tours, there is no substitute to walking the floor.

Using this vehicle to help us “get out there,” we've been able to see how these systems can truly help clinicians deliver care. We've done impromptu interviews with doctors and nurses along the way, during which they talked frankly about the IT they love and the workarounds they came up with (some electronic, some manual) for the IT they don't. We heard from “first-adopter” enthusiasts who wanted all the IT they could get, and hard-core resisters that thought it was all a waste of time.

Overall, the tours have given us a better perspective on the issues we write about in the magazine — in print and online — every day. We saw first-hand that it's often the smallest details that can make expensive technology go unused (for example, nobody charged the mobile PC's battery; or, clinicians didn't realize the system could do that; or, the monitor wasn't working, but nobody called IT).

Message Two — for CIOs

Since the beginning of the year, I've interviewed upwards of 30 CIOs. I've often heard that walking the floor is an important part of the job, but as we embarked on these tours, we came to realize just how important that was. Clinicians were truly excited to see CIOs enter their world. They relish the chance to give feedback — both positive and negative — to the person in charge of implementing the systems they use. During our tours, CIOs have come face-to-face with situations where the technology was being used properly, and where it wasn't. The most effective CIOs returned to their offices with an invaluable “to-do” list that could only have been generated in the trenches.

But the effect on clinicians also seems to be more subtle, and we saw how they appeared uplifted and empowered speaking straight to the CIO. Such walks, I think, go a long way to creating the good will and “benefit of the doubt” that make clinicians bear with a drawn-out or less-than-perfect technology implementation (that probably describes all implementations).

A core tenet of success in business is to talk to your customers about their needs. And while phone and e-mail will probably help you get by, our Virtual Hospital Tours taught us that there is no match for face-to-face encounters in the trenches. My old boss has helped her readers learn that fact. Hopefully I've done the same for you.

Keep an eye on our Web site for the Virtual Hospital Tours.

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief