Does it come in blue?

The store for audiophile wannabe’s. Denver, Colorado. The first store I hit after blowing an entire paycheck at REI when I moved to Colorado.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of clutter, the lack of inventory. There were no amplifiers, because amplifiers were down market. There were a dozen or so each of the pre-amps, tuners, turntables, reel to reel tape decks, and these things called CD players. They also had dozens of speakers. At the back of the store was an enclosed 10 x 10 foot sound proof room with a leather chair positioned dead center.

When the ponytailed salesperson asked about my budget, like a rube I told him I didn’t have one. He beamed and took that to mean it was unlimited. It really meant I hadn’t thought of one. He asked me what I liked to listen to.

“Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon.”

Within a few seconds I was seated in Captain Kirk’s chair, and Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage filled the room in pure digital quadraphonic sound. I was in love.

I lived a block and a half away. Since the equipment wouldn’t fit in my Triumph, I made several trips carrying home my new toys—gold plated monster cable, solid maple speakers that rested on nails so as to minimize distortion, a pre-amp, tuner, receiver, turntable, and stylus.

It wasn’t that I deliberately bought stuff I didn’t need. I walked in uneducated. I had never bought what I was looking at. I didn’t know how much to spend, nor what it would do for me. Looking back at that purchase decision, I bought specs I didn’t need. I didn’t realize it was possible to build audio technology that would meet performance specs beyond what I person could hear, heck beyond what anything could hear. Not understanding that possibility, I bought specs I couldn’t hear. I spent hundreds of dollars on features from which I would never receive value. You too?

It happens all the time. Stereos. Cars. Computers. Applications. Technology. Having bought it doesn’t mean it was needed, or that it was the right thing to do, or that it has an ROI, or that it meets the mission.

The cool thing is that even though I could not hear half the features of my new stereo, it looked really, really impressive.

CHIME versus RHIME (Roemer’s Health Information Management Executives)

So, what’s up with CHIME?  The attendees are all tucked away in an underground bunker in the convention center, the entrance of which is guarded by members of AARP.  Rows of cellophane sandwiches are lined up behind the concertina wire.  The group remind me of Yale’s Skull and Bones society, or at very least some renegade chapter of the masons.

If you walk up to Checkpoint Charlie, you must shield your eyes from the search lights.  German Shepherds pull at their leashes lest you get too close.

You need to be a CIO, I am told.  I am not one of the chosen.  I try every trick–they all fail.  I meet one man who is a member of the elite group.  He used to be a CIO, but is no more.  Yet still he is a member.  I asked him how he managed this feat of deception.  He tells me he is a FIO–freelance information officer.  Suddenly, my mind is all-a-twitter.

Change the letters, and I am in.  I try to bluff my way past the guards with the FIO idea.  I don’t really want to be in the meetings; but the free food has my attention.  Mrs. AARP stops me cold.

Then it comes to me.  The answer lies in changing the letter, but not the CIO letters, the CHIME letters.

I have decided to form RHIME.  Roemer’s Health Information Management Executives.  Avoid the rush, join today–and bring sandwiches.

Healthcare IT: Shave the Cat

As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today…I think, I think, he’d gone away.

This particular fellow happened to be a CIO.  Now, before you throw tomatoes at your monitor, he was atypical; I hope.

We were talking about the various healthcare initiatives that have his attention as the CIO of a hospital.


Meaningful Use—we will pass it in April

Planning for HIPAA 5010 and ICD-10—starting in July

He did not even blink.  It was almost like he was bemused by the triviality of what he faced.  Listening to him, it sounded like he was reading from a scrap of paper he had pulled from hi pants pocket:

  1. Pick up one gallon of milk
  2. Finish EHR
  3. Drop off dry cleaning
  4. Collect ARRA money
  5. Shave the cat
  6. Convert ten thousand systems to 5010
  7. Walk on water

If there is a difference between being confident and being grounded in reality, he may be the poster child.

CIO shift, happens–or shift happens

Another comment of mine to Barbara Quack’s post;

I think you hit the nail on the head.  I think a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that stuff rolls down hill and that shift happens.

In healthcare, as in every significant industry, part of the problem seems to come from the fact that CIOs are often considered to be part of the C-suite in name only.  There are several notable exceptions to this observation, CIOs who drive business strategy instead of merely implementing the business strategy that was developed in the “real” C-suite.  Many C-suiters perceive the real role of the CIO is to apply technology to accomplish what they (the C-suite) want done.

Many executives, CFOs, CMOs, COOs, and CEOs regard the position of CIO such that the “C” (chief) and “O” (officer) are honorariums; officers in name only, officers with commensurately sized offices located on the third floor or in an offsite location.  Responsibility often without authority.

I think the issue of Meaningful Use is a clear example of how the practice works.  I worked with a large group of hospitals whose CIO had a detailed IT strategy and plan—projects, ROIs, resources, and capital.  His plan was tied to the business plan which he helped author.

He did EHR and CPOE before EHR was de rigueur.  Then along came Meaningful Use.  Without any understanding of the business issues or consequences associated with meeting Meaningful Use, the C-er’s and the board decided that not meeting Meaningful Use was not up for discussion.  The analysis was thorough, but unimportant.

In a nutshell, the organization which had already implemented EHR and CPOE because of his thought leadership—and long before DC got into the EHR thought leadership business—was instructed to meet Meaningful Use, all else be damned.  The “all else” included whatever it was that eighty percent of his IT staff would have worked on during the next three years.

For the sake of a check, the IT strategy was sacrificed, and the IT strategy’s alignment to the business strategy was sacrificed.  Did they get the check?  Will they pass the Meaningful Use audit?  IT will be blamed if they fail to meet Meaningful Use.  They will be blamed when they fail to deliver all of the other parts of their original plan.  And, they will be blamed if the standards shift in mid-stream.  Why?  Shift happens.  Responsibility often without authority.

“Memo from the CFO: How’s that whole ICD-10 initiative coming?  Holler if I can do anything.”

And guess what’s coming around the corner?  The new hot topic to roll down hill will be the decision that comes out something like this; “Memo from the CEO: The board decided we need to be seen as an Accountable Care Organization by the end of 2012.  Holler if I can do anything.”

Information Technology—IT.  “That must be where we keep all the technology in case we need it.”  Just send out a request and one of those technology guys will put it in for us.

There is only one thing that will stop this train from making the office of the CIO the bucket into which the downhill water is running.  Lead.  Plan.  Instead of planning for what technology and IT resources you need to deliver to meet their orders, draft a healthcare strategy instead of an IT strategy.  Bring forth a business plan addressing business problems that uses technology as a solution to solve the problems.

Define what is needed, on top of what you already need, to meet ICD-10.

Define what is needed, on top of what you already need, to make ACOs viable.

If you wait to respond to their IT orders, it will be too late.

EHR: How important is due diligence?

What was your first car?  Mine was a 60’ something Corvair–$300.  Four doors, black vinyl bench seating that required hours of hand-stitching to hide the slash marks made by the serial killer who was the prior owner, an AM and a radio, push-button transmission located on the dash.  Maroon-ish.  Fifty miles to the quart of oil—I carried a case of oil in the trunk.  One bonus feature was the smoke screen it provided to help me elude potential terrorists.

I am far from mechanically inclined.  In high school I failed the ASVAB, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery—the put the round peg in the round hole test.  Just to understand how un-complex the Corvair was, I, who hardly knows how to work the radio in a new car, rebuilt the Corvair’s alternator—must not have had many working parts.  Due the the excessive amount of rusting I could see the street from the driver’s side foot well.

However, it had one thing going for it; turning the key often made it go—at least for the first three or four months.  Serves me right.  The guy selling the car pitched it as a date-mobile, alluding to the bench front seat.  Not wanting to look stupid, I bought it.  Pretty poor due diligence.  An impulse purchase to meet what I felt was a social imperative—a lean, mean, dating machine.

The last time I made a good impulse purchase was an ice cream sandwich on a hundred degree day.  Most of my other impulse decisions could have used some good data.  The lack of good data falls on one person, me.

How good is the data you have for deciding to implement an EHR?  In selecting an EHR?  Did you perform the necessary due diligence?  How do you know?  Gathering good data is tedious, and it can lack intellectual stimulation.  I think it affects the same side of our brain as when our better half asks us to stop and ask someone for directions; we like being impulsive, and have built a career based on having made decisions on good hunches.

The difference between you buying and EHR and me buying a clunker is that when I learned I’d made a poor decision I was able to buy a different car.  You can’t do that with an EHR that has more zeros in the price tag than the Dallas Cowboys front line.  Plenty of hospitals are on EHR 2.0–they also happen to be on CIO 2.0. while CIO 1.0 is out shopping for a Corvair.

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.