How to handicap selecting your EHR

Several years ago I was invited to go on the ultimate boys’ toys, weekend getaway. A dozen of us flew from Denver to Utah, and then drove to a point somewhere west of Bozeman Montana. It was to be a weekend of sport, a weekend of competition, and a more than occasional libation. To say that the people who organized the trip came from money would be a major understatement. They were in the oil bid’ ness. The father of one of the guys was the CEO of the second or third largest petroleum company in North America. We stayed at his ranch, a 12 bedroom log cabin in the middle of Nowhere, Montana, which is about 20 miles west of Next to Nowhere, Montana.

The weekend’s activities included fly fishing, duck hunting, and Gin Rummy. Each participant was given a handicap rating in each event. The idea behind the rating was that if you are weak in one event, you were paired with an individual who is skilled in that event. In theory, that would level the playing field among the teams. Since I have never fly-fished or hunted I was odd man out. But I was game, and it’s amazing how good one can become at something when one has to fight their way through it.

Let the games begin. We started the competition with a full day of fly-fishing. Our destination was the Madison River, an impressive, fast running, expanse of snow melt. The stretch we would finish was about 150 feet wide, and its average depth was somewhere between waist and chest high. As I would soon learn the bottom was covered with what appeared to be the equivalent of moss covered bowling balls. I was instructed by one of the more experienced fishermen to tie a nymph to the end of the tippet. For those of you who are as novice to the sport as I was, a nymph is an artificial lure which mimics an insect larva. It is designed to lure fish who feed along the bottom, not the nubile young woman referenced in Greek mythology.

We fished for several hours. My legs ached from trying to maintain my balance in the strong current. I was about ready to admit defeat when the tip of my rod bent sharply into the water. Standing perpendicular to the current, I could see as the brightly speckled back of a large rainbow trout turned upstream. Naturally, I turned upstream with it and began to try to reel him in. First mistake. It was at that point that I first realized that the height of the water was now about level with my chest waders. Second mistake. The guys on the other part of the river and along the bank were yelling at me. I thought it was words of encouragement. Final mistake. As it turns out, they were trying to convince me not to turn upstream. At the exact moment that I faced stream head on, was the exact moment my feet lost purchase with those moss covered bowling balls of which I wrote. Turning yet again to my physics, I quickly recalled the equation; force equals mass times acceleration. Instantaneously, I was swept downstream, still clutching my fly rod in my right hand.

Wayne Newton’s first law of fluid mechanics took over; waders, no matter how good they are, if positioned in a plane that is horizontal to the river will fill rapidly with water, just as mine did. The choice with which I was faced was do I save myself and lose the fish, or do I try and land the fish? One of the shortcomings of maleness—I was going to use maledom until I Googled it—is that we rarely have actual choices, especially when we are around other males or for that matter, females. Naturally, I opted to land the fish. My reel had become dislocated from my rod. I remember grabbing the reel and stuffing it down my waders, and as I tried to float my body as though it was a raft without a rudder towards the river’s nearest bank, I began to reel in the monofilament with a hand over hand motion. After several minutes I was standing dripping wet and proudly displaying a 19 inch rainbow trout.

We cooked the fish and played Rummy until about three in the morning, awoke at four, grabbed our shotguns and headed out into the darkness without so much as a cup of coffee. Round three of the competition was to be duck hunting. To this day I’m still unclear as to why we had to hunt ducks while it was still dark. Weren’t there any ducks who needed shooting at brunch time, I inquired? Twelve guys, who collectively smelled like a distillery, and who are operating on an hour of sleep, armed with loaded shotguns, trod through a willow thicket as dawn approached. As I neared the river bank, a startled duck shot skyward. I raised my over and under twelve-gauge shotgun, sort of took aim, and fired a volley. The duck seemed to pause in midair, and then fell like a rock into the racing water. I watched helplessly as my quarry floated away from me. I looked downstream and was pleased to see two men fishing from a rowboat. The duck floated right towards them. A man reached down, retrieved my duck, and dropped it in his boat. He then waved to me. Thinking he was being friendly I returned his wave. He then rowed away with my duck.

It was a great three days. Part of what made the weekend fun with not having to excel at each event. It helped knowing that in areas where my skills were not as good, I could count on the skills of others and vice versa. The idea behind this approach was to build competitive and level teams. That approach works well in mano y mano events like those I described. It works much less well in EHR, HIT and healthcare reform in general.  I’m trying to recall if I wrote previsouly about a meeting I attended with a former hospital CEO.  His take on EHR was the total inability of his peers to have any precience regarding their approach to EHR.  According to him, very intelligent people were making very unintelligent decisions, committing their entire institution to strategies made with almost no data.  Some people can give a better explanation for why they bought their car than they can for why they selected their EHR.   That’s the wrong way to handicap this event.

There are two ways to handicap your EHR.  One way is to look at the program from the perspective of risk assessment and assess–handicap–the risks.  The other way to to be a detriment to the program’s success.  One of these is bad.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 85-6942

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