“Didn’t expect to see that,” I wrote in an email to John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston.
This off-hand 2010 communication referenced NIST taking a hand in the formation of Meaningful Use or EMR certification or something like that, something that was, I quickly learned, not only quite expected, but mandated by law.
“Actually, they have to do it,” he politely wrote back within minutes, referencing the statutory obligation.
As I read his email, I felt deeply mortified. I wasted the time of someone very busy because I hadn’t done my homework. I felt sure he’d shook his head when reading it and vowed to never again let me darken his inbox. I mean, when everyone is pinging you about something, shedding the dolts seems a great way to pare down your obligations.
But, of course, Halamka didn’t do that. In fact, he is incapable of such sentiments, let alone such actions. And through my entire time covering the healthcare IT field, he has consistently been willing to answer any question, participate in any interview, and assist with any Webinar.
Actually, that is not quite true, but herein, ironically, lies more reason to admire the man. When Halamka cannot do something, he tells you quickly and politely. He does not say, “Well, I’m booked at that time, but let me see if I can get it moved,” only to run off and tell that person he can no longer participate in their event. While getting a “no” stings, especially if the event cannot be moved, one eventually realizes this method is why he’s never cancelled on you.
And, in fact, he never has cancelled on me, though I’ve had some folks cancel interviews multiple times. In fact, one person asked to reschedule our talk 10 minutes after it was supposed to have started. It is through such comparisons that one begins to appreciate the man’s consistency. He says “yes” to just about anyone, for just about anything, just about every time he possibly can, all in an effort to help people understand what, how and why; all in an effort to help improve the industry we all call home.
So Halamka is, in a sense, everywhere all the time, and this has produced a backlash among those who know him least. “What a self-promoter,” they say. “The man cannot control himself. What an ego!”
I believe nothing could be further from the truth. And I would bet you some of those same naysayers have approached him for help when they needed it, only to benefit from the exact principles that produced the behavior they’d condemned.
I can just imagine his response to such talk, if he’d ever been told of it in person. Mucking out a stall on his farm, or carrying out the chainsaw to continue the preparation of his mushroom garden, one can picture a Zen-like serenity on this face, as he took in what was said.
“Well, what can you do?” he might say. “If some folks are going to dislike me in exchange for helping a lot, I can live with that.”
“Great answer,” Dr. H., I might say. “And, by the way, thanks for keeping ‘em coming all these years.”