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Comparing Notes

October 11, 2010
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Why the hallway conversations at conferences are sometimes the most important

It was fascinating sitting next to two CIOs from prominent healthcare organizations discussing their different IT deployment situations, over lunch one day this past week at the CHIME10 Fall Forum in Phoenix. Both of the healthcare IT executives, whom I know well, come from prominent multi-hospital organizations. Interestingly, they had never met in person; not surprisingly, they had a lot to talk about.

And, listening to the conversation of those two CIOs validated for me once again how enormously complex the operating environments of our readers are on a day-to-day basis. While it’s become a sometimes-tiresome truism that healthcare is a unique field, it is demonstrably true that our industry has a level of operational complexity that surpasses that of virtually any other major industry. What’s more, because of the very unusual history of healthcare in the United States in particular, every patient care organization has particular organizational and cultural elements that set it apart from its peers—in contrast, for example, to the typical manufacturing plant in just about any given manufacturing industry.

Further complicating everything, healthcare is one of the most highly regulated industries not run directly by government agencies (except in government-run institutions, of course, and even those score high on the complexity scale). Not surprisingly, moving our industry forward on a collective level, as the HITECH Act and federal healthcare reform are attempting to do, is asking for a lot, as justified as the asking might be.

So when it comes to conferences like the CHIME Fall Forum, it doesn’t surprise me that these “hallway conversations” between professional peers should be so valuable and worthwhile for attendees. For as important as it is to attend formal sessions, listen to speakers, and engage in public discussions on topics of great urgency and significance, it can be just as meaningful to have the kinds of “checking-in” conversations that I listened to (with the permission of the participants, I should quickly add!) over lunch last week in Phoenix. For it’s in those very informal conversations that one often hears one or the other individuals exclaim, “You do that? Really?” Or “I tell you, the worst thing that could ever happen was…” or “Yes, my docs were ready to roast me on an open spit at that point,” and any number of such questions or statements.

And, at a time when everyone in our industry is striving mightily to help move her or his organization forward at a breakneck pace to meet the demands of government, purchasers, payers, consumers, and countless internal stakeholders, “checking in” can be one of the most valuable opportunities available to CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders these days, even though it will never appear as an item on a program agenda.

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