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March Editor's Memo: You're Not Alone

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Healthcare IT leaders throughout the industry are largely struggling with the same handful of problems.

For a long time, I figured that reading self-improvement books on management and communication skills was silly. I thought I was a pretty smart guy — observant, pensive, and able to appreciate mistakes and modify behavior— and thus didn't need any advice from some self-proclaimed guru. But when a relative gave me one for Christmas, I gave it a read. Mind you, getting a gift like this is akin to receiving a XXX-large item of clothing when you think you're slim and trim — you're not quite sure how to take it.

But I have to tell you, I found it very useful and have bought a number of others.

The point of this little story is that even though you think you're doing it right, someone else has probably spent a lot more time trying to figure it out. This thought came into my head over the last month as I interviewed a number of healthcare IT leaders. In addition to realizing this is my favorite part of the job, it ensures the magazine stays on track with what our readers on the ground are facing. I also believe these Q&As are one of the most attractive editorial product a publication can produce — clear, concise, honest interviews with our readers for our readers.

I've come across a few themes this month in those conversations that I want to share, in an effort to make sure you know you're not alone. The interesting thing is that, though many are dealing with the same issues, each individual usually feels he or she has a good handle on at least one of those challenges. And that's where the beauty of the well-conceived and executed trade publication comes in — disseminating this information for the good of the entire reader community.

Just as a teaser, I'll highlight a few of these issues here and direct your attention to the “Web-First” section of our site (http://www.healthcare-informatics.com) where I'll be posting more and more of these interviews.

Integration — Cross-vendor application integration is the bane of a CIO's existence, due to a lack of tight standards (HL7 is good, I'm told, but not great). CIOs continually walk a fine line between giving clinical and financial departments the products they really, really want (think a child's Christmas present-type wanting) and maintaining a rational IT architecture with a reasonable long-term total cost of ownership.

Funding — Speaking of the costs, CIOs — especially in community hospitals — are having trouble getting buy-in for large-scale IT projects. This is definitely the case where the sticker price is followed with a yearly maintenance fee that essentially means the product is completely repurchased (on a cost basis) every four of five years. Financial types just don't like seeing budgets that keep them paying for a system over the course of their children's adolescence.

Staffing — Some hospitals are having trouble even getting kids right out of college into their workforce, due to the high-cost of living in the neighborhood or a high demand for technical skills. One CIO I spoke with said this was her number one challenge — recruiting and retaining IT professionals that knew all the IT environments her different vendors were running. Also, she wanted to increase staff size so no one individual's leaving would result in turmoil (see problem number two for why this was unlikely to get solved).

There are many others that could be put on this list. The point is that reading how others are handing their problems will help you handle yours. Either you can say, “Oh, we tried that and it didn't work,” or “Wow, I never thought of doing it that way.” In either case, learning what others are doing is better than thinking you always know the best way.

I have a thoughtful family member to thank for tuning me in to this concept. I hope to have done the same for you.

(By the way, if you're a CIO, CTO, CMIO or other IT leader who'd like to be interviewed for a Web-First Q&A, drop me a line. — aguerra@vendomegrp.com)

Healthcare IT leaders throughout the industry are largely struggling with the same handful of problems. For a long time, I figured that reading