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We Lost a Leader: The Passing of Al Pryor

March 19, 2009
by Dale Sanders
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Let me begin by saying that, in reality, I’m not worthy of honoring Al Pryor. Such honor is bestowed upon his family and friends who knew him much longer and deeper than I did. My fond appreciation and respect for him are all that I have to offer.

Among his countless medical informatics achievements, T. Allan Pryor was one of the "inventors" of Intermountain Healthcare’s HELP electronic health record system, along with Reed Gardner and Homer Warner Sr. They started a discussion 40+ years ago which is now on the lips of our country's President, Congress, and every corporate leader and physician in America.

There will never be another Al Pryor. His personality would sense the vacuum of dullness and mediocrity and fill it in a flash-- with humor, insight, and intellectual provocation. He kept you laughing and he kept you on your toes-- you never knew what might come next... it might be a joke or it might be a brilliant thought, and quite often, they were delivered together. There is a lesson about leadership therein, one could suspect.

In the early and mid-90's, I was working on a computerized nuclear warfare decision support system for the Pentagon when I met Al Pryor and Reed Gardner. They didn't know what I was working on at the time-- I couldn't talk about it-- but in my research, I came across their publications regarding the use of computers in time-compressed and life-critical decision support environments, so we arranged a meeting with them at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. The meeting was so fun and they were so engaging, I returned to my boss at TRW and said, "Adios. Get me out of the nuclear warfare business. Healthcare decision support is the *real* frontier." Three years later, I was lucky enough to be working for Al Pryor and Intermountain. He gave me the chance to lead Intermountain’s Enterprise Data Warehouse initiative, which at the time, was a fledgling project with one of Al’s graduate students. We turned the EDW into an impressive success story for Intermountain and the industry, but along the way, the project had some seriously dark periods. Many people tried quite deliberately to undermine and kill it. During one of those more depressing and troubling periods, I sought his counsel. I can still remember sitting in his office when he shared advice with me that reveals his values as well as his frank, pioneering, and admirable style. It’s advice that sticks with me today-- “If what you’re doing is fundamentally right, then stick to it. Why all the worry? You’ll eventually overcome the critics. And always remember: Physicians run the roost in healthcare. They bring home the bacon. As long as you keep them on your side and make them happy, you’re in good shape. Don’t let the bean counters fool you into thinking that they’re in charge.” :-) By the way, some of the knowledge gleaned from Al and Reed made it back into our country's processes for determining when to "launch on warning" and when not to-- it's all about false positives and false negatives, which, of course, is incredibly critical in the scheme of nuclear weapons command and control. Al and Reed’s influence is buried without reference in the President's "Black Book" and the Emergency Action Procedures of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Volumes IV and V. Bizarre but very true tale.

You never know who will change your life, in what way, or how far the ripple of your influence will extend, but Al Pryor changed mine and the lives of many, many people for the better.

Thank you, Al... God bless and rest your good heart and bless your family.

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Comments

Dale. That is one of the most touching tribues I've ever read. And there are many lessons in there for all when it comes to inspiring others to do their best.

Dale, indeed, very, very moving. And to think he was part of the early HELP systemI am always intrigued by how things were way back when. thanks for sharing this with us.

Dale Sanders

Chief Information Officer, Cayman Islands Health Services Authority

Dale Sanders was a past VP and CIO of the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation at...