One of the pleasures that results from writing a book about “Taking Risks in Business and Life,” is being asked to speak before a wide variety of groups. While I have never yet been invited to speak to a group of CIOs, I would welcome the opportunity. My primary complaint about information processing is how slowly improvements are made in commonly-used systems, where developments would seem to be “duck soup” to the novice.
A universal problem is the lack of conformity in patient information data collection programs. When referring physicians send patient information to a hospital, the data must usually be reentered into that group’s records by hand. Don’t CIOs have the ability to collectively mandate that patient data gathering be conducted using specific programs by doctors and other health care providers? Or is there a fear in “Taking a Risk?”
Why don’t more physicians and hospitals use e-mails to communicate with their patients? Sure, there are people who might “opt out” of such communication, but the phone is an antiquated device that gives the patient no written record, and such a contact often ends up being a recorded message on the phone rather than an actual contact with the patient. Of course, there are times that medical results are best communicated via phone or in person. Setting up a time for such a conversation can usually be arranged via an e-mail, rather than getting a message to call, only to find that I can’t get a doctor to answer my call after 4 p.m.
Yes, I realize that urine samples can’t be sent to my doctor via e-mail, but why can’t I have a black box at home that records my voice, heartbeat, blood pressure, and other data and sends it to my physician’s office. Eventually, I believe a “smart” physician’s software program will be developed to instantly assess the patient data it collects and decide on the degree of urgency and the required medical responders needed. To develop such a program might be considered risky, but in actuality, I believe it would reduce the serious consequences of patient illnesses and their related costs.
It is interesting that jet engines on airplanes can be monitored in flight for wear and malfunctions, and communicate to the home base of the plane. Thus the airport service shops can be ready for a fast repair when the plane lands, or a plane can be diverted to an emergency base.
Where are the cardiology departments that have access to that level of data collection with their older and at-risk patients? The electronics and smart watches are already available. What is needed is the “home base” that can capture the alarms in real time and feedback information to their patients regarding what they should be doing. This function could be managed by aggressive CIOs.
Another concern of mine, and I suspect of physicians, is understanding the words spoken by an older and more diversified population. Computer speech recognition that can interpret speech is improving, but the means to convey a typed message is here now. Imagine the mistakes that would be eliminated if the physician and patient had communicating iPads with the spoken word being written into both devices. The physician’s comments are already being interpreted and written out by computer software, eliminating the need to physically type in their statements. For patients, the task is more difficult, but their typed or written dialogues would be a way of confirming what they are attempting to convey.
From my own hospital experience, I have no complaints about the medical care, but the food management can often be disappointing. How much better a smart electronic tablet would have been for me to select from the approved food choices than the paper and pencil system still so commonly used. If I wanted to order French toast, the smart pad would then prompt me on whether I would want butter, maple syrup, or even whipped cream. Of course, the program would only offer what my dietary restrictions would allow. I recently ordered some French toast in such a situation but did not receive any syrup. By the time I could talk to a human and got the syrup delivered, but it was 45 minutes later. Similarly, I got no gravy on my turkey dinner, and no butter for my bread — all because I was not prompted to select items on the “dumb” paper menu.
Being on an IV bottle for eight days was bad enough, but having an alarm sound every two hours all day and night was inexcusable. Why wasn’t my IV system monitored at the nurse’s station to notify the staff on duty that my bag was almost empty or a pump was malfunctioning?
May I suggest that a CIO specialist be required to spend two days in bed as a patient, hooked up to an IV bag and urinary catheter? I am sure that this person would become much better attuned and sympathetic to improving the monitoring systems that could be developed. In addition, the CIO I would hire would be someone who could “think out of the box” — not just be satisfied with marginal changes but, when appropriate, would “take the risk” and propose “quantum jumps.” Yes, such changes would need to be approved and properly tested and properly monitored, but that is how progress is made.
During my own career, my most important successes came when I departed from tradition and did not “go with the flow.” For example, as described in my book, at GE Healthcare, I chose different designs for both GE’s Fan Beam CT Scanner and the first MRI. We left our competitors “in the dust” with both products and established the gold standards that had to be copied by all the other manufacturers in order to survive.
In ultrasound, signal processing was accomplished by “analog” back in 1985 and all the medical device companies were forecasting that digital ultrasound was coming. But it took 10 years for the system to be available at an affordable price. In my interest to be first to the market, I authorized the R&D funds to construct a digital ultrasound system, even if it cost as much as a Cray Computer. By 1991, it was working with the flexibility to examine all the unique benefits that digital processing would provide. The result was a product lead in ultrasound technology that put GE a step ahead in its leap into the US Market. It turned out that the early risk had a huge payout.
That was too long ago to even have had a CIO, but today, as someone in charge of a health care business, I would look far and wide for a CIO mover and shaker, interested in improving the lives of both our clients and employees. That person would need to be willing to go for the gold medal, and not be satisfied with slow incremental change. I am certain medical care would be improved, costs would be reduced, and the health care staff would delight in seeing happier patients.
The former chief of GE’s global research division, Walter Robb is a frequent speaker and is author of the book, “Taking Risks: Getting Ahead in Business and Life,” in which he urges leaders to take a more entrepreneurial approach to their strategies.