A little IT knowledge can kill you

It almost killed me.  Curious?  I lived in Colorado for a dozen years, and spent almost every other weekend in the mountains, fly-fishing, skiing, climbing, and painting—any excuse would do.  Colorado has 54 peaks above fourteen thousand feet.  In my twelve years I climbed most of them.  Some solo; some with friends.

I owned almost everything North Face made, including a down sleeping bag with thermal protection which would have made me sweat on the moon and a one-burner propane stove which cranked out enough BTUs to smelt aluminum.  Two of my friends and felt we needed a bigger challenge than what Colorado’s peaks offered.

The dot in the photo is me.

We decided on a pair of volcanoes in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba and Popocatépetl—both over 18,000’.  We trained hard because we knew that people who didn’t died.  We trained with ropes, ice axes, carabineers, and crampons.  One day in early May we arrived at the base ofPico de Orizaba.  The man who drove us to the mountain made us sign the log book, that way they’d know who they were burying.  After a six hour ride from a town with less people than a K-Mart, we were deposited at a cinder-block hut—four walls, tin roof, dirt floor.  Base camp.

Before the sun rose we were hiking up ankle-deep volcanic ash; gritty, coarse, black sand.  The sand soon turned in to thigh-deep snow.  We took turns breaking trail, stopping only long enough to refill our water bottles by hand-pumping glacier melt from the runoff in the bottom of cobalt blue ice caverns carved from solid glacier.

Ice Cave we used to collect drinking water

Throughout the trek we passed crude wooden crosses that were stuck into the ash and snow, serving as grim reminders of those who’d gone before us.

We knew the signs of pulmonary edema, but were reluctant to acknowledge them when we first saw it.  It was about one the following morning when we decided to make camp.  My roommate was having trouble concentrating, and his speech was slightly slurred.  When we asked him if he was ill, he responded much like one would expect an alcoholic would respond when asked if he was okay to drive.  “I’m fine.”

We were at about 16,000’.  The slope seemed to be at about forty-five degrees.  The sheet of ice upon which we stood glistened from what little light the stars emitted.  I removed my tent pole from my pack and placed it on the ground—we were going to camp for the night.  We watched in awe as the pole gained speed and hurtled down the side of the volcano, quickly lost in the darkness.

Realizing my friend wasn’t doing well, and that I was now feeling somewhat punkish, we made the difficult decision to turn back.  The only survival for edema is to lose enough altitude until you reach an altitude where there is enough air pressure to force the oxygen into the blood.  Eighteen hours of climbing.  Pitch black.  And then it started to snow.  Any other time the view would have been awesome.  We headed down, me carrying my pack and his, he with our friend.

We arrived at the block hut around four that morning.  By then I was no longer making any sense.  My roommate had recovered, but I had become somewhat delirious—at least that’s what they told me later.  Not knowing right from left or wrong, I was determined to keep walking.  The two of them took turns laying on me to prevent me from sneaking out during the night.

A little knowledge almost killed us.  The scary thing is that we knew what we were doing.  We had trained at altitude, had a plan, worked the plan.  The plan shifted.  Sometimes shift happens.

It happens more with IT.  Much more.  Do you know what the chances are of any IT project ‘working’ that costs more than$7-10 million?  (Working is defined as having a positive ROI, a project that was delivered on time, withing the budget, and delivered the expected results.) (IT includes workflows, change management, training, etc.)  Two in ten.  Twenty percent.  That’s below the Mendosa Line—non baseball fans may have to look up that one.  Remember the last industry conference you attended?  Was it about EHR?  Pretty scary knowing most of them were planning for a failure.

Put your best efforts, your brightest people on planning the EHR.  Make them plan it, then make them plan it again, and then make them defend it, every piece of it.  If they don’t convince you they can do it in their sleep, you had better redo it.  Do they know what they’re planning to do?  Do they know why they’re planning to do it that way?  If they haven’t done it before, this may not be the best time for them to practice.  EHR is not a good project for stretching someone’s capabilities.

Planning is difficult to defend twice during the life of a large program.  First, at the beginning of the program when the C-Suite is in a hurry to see people doing things and signing contracts.  The second time planning is difficult to defend is the moment the C-I-Told-You-Sos are calling for your head for having such an inadequate plan.

How would I approach planning an EHR program for a hospital?  If we started in September, my goal would be to;

  • Have a dedicated and qualified PMO in place in four weeks
  • Begin defining workflows and requirements by October (I’m curious.  For those who have done or are doing this piece, how many FTE’s participated?  I ask because i think chances are good that your number is far fewer than I think would be needed.)
  • Issue a requirements document by mid-January.
  • Be able to recommend a vendor by the end of March.

That seems like a lot of time.  There are plenty who will tell you they can do ‘it’ quicker.  Good for them.  The best factor in your favor right now is time.

Reread this in a year and see where you are…

…See, I told you so.  Anyone want to go hiking?

Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942

One thought on “A little IT knowledge can kill you

  1. Pingback: ICMCC News Page » A little IT knowledge can kill you

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