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Got Your Running Shoes On Yet?

October 16, 2009
by Mark Hagland
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This past Sunday, nearly 35,000 runners participated in the annual Chicago Marathon (now the Bank of America Chicago Marathon), with all but about 1,000 completing the 26.2-mile route, which ran through large swaths of downtown Chicago and through an array of neighborhoods, despite the freezing temperatures. And the winner of this marathon, Samuel Wanjiru, ran the race in an astonishing 2 hours, 5 minutes, and 41 seconds, which set a new record for a marathon on U.S. soil. Watching some of the runners race past my own block on the city's North Side, I was inspired, as I am every year, by their determination. That is particularly true since, unlike Wanjiru and the band of several Kenyans who won the first several men's race places, I couldn't help but notice large numbers of very, very average-looking runners (no offense to them, of course), some of whom were in complete contrast to the sinewy Wanjiru. A number were even chubby or beer-bellied; while large numbers, as in past years, were clearly in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s. Just to put all this context, while I've been a daily jogger now for nearly three full decades, I myself could not conceive of running a marathon, particularly with knee and hip problems that have surfaced in the past couple of years. Meanwhile, in reflection, I can't help but think of, yes, the whole ARRA-HITECH funding situation coming up for our industry. My December cover story is on some of the human resources and staffing issues that might afflict hospitals nationwide, as they try to sprint towards the deadline for getting certified in order to receive the promised federal funding. Few hospital organizations are the equivalent of Samuel Wanjiru; and even some of the most IT-advanced hospital organizations nationwide still have significant deficits to address in the coming months. At the same time, the vast majority of hospitals will find the effort to qualify for the federal funding an initiative of marathon proportions. Will hospital organizations get anywhere near to the 90-plus percentage level of Chicago marathon runners who finished the race? That would be an incredible accomplishment. But unlike the marathon, this "race" is one that hospitals and health systems need to run, since the kinds of core clinical information systems the federal government is asking that they implement are going to be vital to the kinds of patient safety and care quality improvements that our healthcare industry needs to achieve in any case, going forward. So the weather may be chilly, the joints may ache, and others may be running faster, but for our industry, running a good race will be, in this case, more important than ever. And, as a healthcare journalist and author who believes in the rightness of this "race" towards health care system improvement, I'll be cheering and commenting from the sidelines.

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