EHR leadership isn’t always a democracy


That’s my new word. I coined it the last time my wife was traveling and I was in charge of breakfast and making sure nobody missed the bus. Cerealizable is what happens when you walk into the kitchen and are confronted with two hungry dogs, three hungry kids, hair that needs brushing, homework assignments that need to be reviewed, and lunches that have to be packed.

Breakfast orders are shouted at me across the room as though I’m their short-order cook; pancakes, French toast, sausage, and who knows what else. What does one do? I was quickly headed down the path of self destruction, too many tasks and not enough taskers. I needed a light at the end of the tunnel and so I created one. I cerealized the problem; simplified it–turned into something I could solve. Go to the pantry, pull out the cardboard cereal boxes, three bowls, three spoons, and the gallon of milk. Check off breakfast.

In case you’re wondering, Cocoa Puffs still turn the milk brown, just like they did thirty years ago. Lunch orders began to be shouted across the bowls of cereal. Ham and cheese, PB&J, tuna–extra mayo, no celery. Once again small beads of perspiration formed quickly on my brow. For a moment I considered calling the school and telling them that all three were sick. That would solve the lunch problem, but it would also mean that the three of them would be home all day–my own private hostage situation. What to do? My coffee remained out of reach, still untouched. That explained the pending headache. Back to lunch. Cerealize it. “Everyone is buying lunch today,” I announced above the roar.

A half hour later, the din had subsided. I made a fresh cup of coffee and collected my thoughts. What had I learned from the exercise? Three things. One, some situations require leadership. Two, three children and one grownup is not time to establish a democracy. There is no Bill of Rights. To quote Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king.” Three, break the problem down into bite-sized pieces, don’t try to swallow the elephant whole.

That same approach works just as well with EHR grownups; clinical grownups and IT grownups. Improving the interaction takes leadership. Large, institution-changing projects involve pulling people out of their normal routines and relationships.  Solving problems will not involve a kumbaya moment–Program management is not a democracy. To succeed, the program champion, having created a vision, will have to break it down into bite-sized pieces.


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