I have a couple of “Life is Good” t-shirts, one with a runner and one with a water skier. Life has been particularly good as I reached my 50th birthday and served as HIMSS Chair for the Annual Conference this year.
We are creating the health information highway and I recognize there are so many people who are dedicating their lives to making this possible. I tell people that my job is to take care of everything that breaks.
As Deputy CIO of Partners HeathCare, my teams support the network, data centers, service desk and computer field technicians. We make sure the technology works for our caregivers, researchers, and educators across the system so our patients can get the best care. I also want to take care of our workers who are serving these customers.
Serving as Chair of HIMSS is a long way from the day-to-day of IS operations. In my opening talk, I invoked the line I’ve been using since 2010: “What a fabulous time it is to be working in health IT.” The naysayers criticized the sentiment; I was “preaching to the converted and not taking into account the difficulties of meaningfully using these technologies.”
There are certainly plenty of forums where these challenges are emphasized every day. HIMSS14 was the venue to celebrate work accomplished and cast vision for a truly connected healthcare system. It was the place to affirm those who are sacrificing work/life balance, if not life and limb, like the workers of 20th century construction projects.
I’ve participated in HIMSS since I was in graduate school in the late ‘90s. I’ve certainly bought in to the vision, “Better health through IT,” but have also been impressed with the HIMSS staff, volunteers, and many stakeholders who share this vision. While political divisions have reigned supreme in the US, health IT has been a welcome bipartisan issue. Only the most extreme question whether IT can improve quality and reduce costs in healthcare.
It’s interesting to participate in these two contrasting worlds. With HIMSS, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the country and to places like Saudi Arabia. Listening to leaders from health systems, the issues are very similar despite cultural or regulatory differences. Everyone struggles with improving quality and lowering cost — and everyone looks to technology to help improve value.
I don’t talk much about HIMSS back at Partners. We are fortunate to have so many distinguished leaders in healthcare and health IT. I’ve sat through lectures and read the books of Partners folks who are thought leaders in these spaces. My job at Partners is more behind the scenes, and I’m okay with that. My teams are trying to stay out of the spotlight. If the IT infrastructure works, we’re happy. If we have a problem, we enter a limelight that is extremely strong.
Most know that we have a large vendor EMR implementation going on after a tradition of developing our own clinical systems. At HIMSS events, I’m often asked how it’s going. I know what I read and sense internally of course, but I’m not on the front lines of the program. The initiative was set up — correctly, I believe — as a clinical and revenue cycle transformation project designed to give our patients one record and one billing statement. My teams are building AIX, Windows and Citrix servers, performing wireless surveys, and rolling out access points. We’re inventorying workstations and printers and helping to map workflows. Our focus is for all of these things to have high availability and disaster recovery so the program can configure the software and our clinicians can bring about the transformation they envision.
I’ve always enjoyed reading about civil engineering history. I’ve read books about the creation of the Panama Canal, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Hoover Dam. I’m amazed at the engineering feats and grateful for the sacrifice of the workers who created these marvels. Unfortunately, not only was the work very dangerous, but overseers didn’t always provide the best working conditions.
So throughout all of this, I’ve thought about our staff. While they are not drilling into the sides of canyons from perilous perches or vulnerable to malaria from living conditions in early 20th century Panama, they are dedicating themselves to excellence in technology operations. They arrive early, stay late and work overnight to make changes during shifts where there are fewer patients and workers. We must continue to support, reward, and provide them with a schedule where they can be their best.
The contrast between my role as Chair during HIMSS Annual Conference and my life at Partners is big. The week in Orlando provided the opportunity to meet with leaders in our industry, federal officials from HHS and a potential presidential candidate. I crafted my comments and talks in a way that reflects my passions, but also represents my Partners and HIMSS roles well. It is a fun time to have a broad platform for my ideas, particularly as I reached my half-century milestone.
All of that is now in the history of HIMSS14. I’m back at Partners and focused on making the technology work for our patients and taking care of our workforce. We’re working so that everyone can say life is good — our patients getting the best care, our clinicians using the best technology and our IT staff getting the best satisfaction for their work.[Scott MacLean is Deputy CIO at Partners HealthCare in Boston and Board Chair of HIMSS.]