Of all the ways in which healthcare was affected by Covid-19, one of the most significant was the inability to collaborate at in-person events. CHIME was no exception; as the pandemic forced both its Boot Camps and Fall Forum to convert to virtual events.
It forced the organization — which has always been a proponent of face-to-face interactions — to pause, but not to stop. “We’re constantly trying to figure out what are the toughest problems in healthcare, and what can we do as a collaborative group to make it less burdensome for all of us,” said Russ Branzell in a recent interview.
It’s pretty clear what the toughest problem was in 2020. CHIME, like many organizations, was forced to pivot, and rapidly accelerate a strategy that had already been outlined to become a digital organization. And while changing the conference format was a key step, it certainly wasn’t the only one; education, task force meetings, and one-on-one conversations took on a new nature, and even opened up new opportunities for collaboration.
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- As of now, CHIME plans to hold the 2021 Fall Forum live, while also offering a virtual component. “We believe, and we’ve heard, that people are ready to get back together.”
- CHIME has made it a priority to offer free content to non-members during the pandemic, in the hopes that industry leaders will continue to seek education and share best practices.
- Whether it’s the opioid crisis or a lack of diversity in leadership roles, CHIME is “constantly trying to figure out what are the toughest problems in healthcare and what can we do as a collaborative group to make this less burdensome.”
- It’s critical, particularly now, to recognize the work of healthcare heroes, including those who have provided much-needed IT support. “People didn’t just give an extra 10 percent; they gave everything they had.”
Q&A with Russ Branzell, Part 2 [Click here to view Part 2]
Gamble: In the fall, CHIME plans to have both the live conference and the virtual component. It seems like a smart thing to do, because as you said, there are individuals and organizations that aren’t going to be ready to travel.
Branzell: Right. There are a few ways to look at this. It goes back to our original strategy, which is that there are always going to be some people who will not be able to attend, especially if you look at from an international perspective. Plus, a lot of people might want to hear sessions later. And so we’ll broadcast and record them.
But we also have a lot of people — and we’ve heard this repeatedly — who are ready to get back together in big groups. And by ‘big group,’ I mean a CHIME-sized group, not a meeting of thousands upon thousands. The CHIME family is ready for a reunion, and we believe fall will be a good timing for that.
We will look forward to seeing you and Anthony and so many others — not just because you’re great at what you do, but more importantly, you’re part of our family. We want our family get back together. Yes, we’ll offer education and networking. But we believe that from a humanistic perspective, it’s really important for people to be able to get back together. At the same time, we’ll make sure we’re connecting with everybody virtually.
The other part is in that virtual world, our CHIME members can continue to share content with their entire team. We believe it lifts all the boats as the tide rises. We have a chance to share our content with a much broader audience with grealt leaders and help them get messaging out, but more importantly, share best practices across the globe.
Gamble: You mentioned before some of the educational programs that were being offered to non-members for free during the earlier stages of pandemic. Is that still the case?
Branzell: It is. It’s part of the ecosystem that continues in education. We have a partnership with one of our foundation members, Optimum, to provide a minority disadvantage education program with a few colleges, and we’re teaching an early development program at CHIME University. This isn’t for CHIME members. They may not be CHIME members for 20 years. Through these program, we want to help everyone in the industry get their messaging out, and give them the knowledge they need. As a matter of fact, I’m a product of our Boot Camp series; I attended it 25 or 26 years ago. And I wasn’t a CHIME member at the time; a member nominated me and put me through the program.
We’re constantly trying to lift all the leaders in the industry. We obviously want to focus on our core membership, but the part of that means helping everybody get better, especially their teams. We want to make sure we do that across the board.
Gamble: I know that for some people, it’s been very difficult with everything that happened in the past year — especially regarding racial injustice — not to be able to have these in-person programs and talk about it. But the fact that it’s still happening digitally is really important.
Branzell: Absolutely. Whether it’s happening one-on-one, in small groups, or in bigger groups where we get people together, part of what we’re always trying to do is solve the more difficult problems in healthcare. Two years ago, we started working on the opioid crisis. Now we have a diversity committee focused on a lot of the inequity issues that are out there. We’ve got a very small task force right now doing some work on the idea that there might be bias even in software coding, and so we’re looking at that to see if we can make an impact there. We’re constantly trying to figure out what are the toughest problems in healthcare and what can we do as a collaborative group to make this less burdensome for all of us.
Gamble: Right. I also wanted to talk about the leadership podcast series and what that has been like for you. It’s definitely different interviewing people in that type of format.
Branzell: Well, I will tell you that being on the other side of the mic, like you and Anthony are all the time, there was a small learning curve, to say the least. I’m sure if you listen to the first couple of those, you could probably hear the nervous thread running through my voice.
But more importantly, it’s great to be able to be part of that environment. We have the Digital Health Leaders podcast, which is for our provider members, and our Leader-to-Leader podcast series for executives in our foundation firms and others out in the industry. It really is a great opportunity, and we’re not doing it just to pull on a thread of knowledge or best practice, but also to get to know people as human beings; to hear about their families, their pressures, and challenges, and why they lead the way they do. It’s been an unbelievable treasure trove of knowledge for me personally, and I’ve made some great friends along the way.
More importantly, the feedback I’ve gotten is that within our small niche, we’ve been able to get some people out there in the industry and share what they’re doing.
Gamble: I can tell from listening to it that you really get a lot out of it. And if it makes, I’ve been doing podcasts for 10 years and I’m nervous every single time. It never changes.
Branzell: Well, then I think we have something very much in common there.
Gamble: The last thing I want to touch on is the Healthcare Heroes program. I think it’s so important to get that recognition out there. I mean, it goes without saying that this has been such a difficult time for the front line workers, but those who providing support have been through so much too, and it’s really important I think to showcase that.
Branzell: I give credit to the entire team on that. We were going around the board asking what we can do to make things better during this time and what we can do to make things better here. We wanted to create a way to recognize people who normally might not get recognized. When it was asked who it was limited to, we said nobody—absolutely nobody. Anyone could suggest the name of someone in a health system who did something special and go online to nominate him or her.
We all need recognition. We all need some support and some positive reinforcement during this time, and some of the stories we’ve heard are amazing. It’s amazing what people have done during this period of time inside companies and health systems. Yes, everyone did cool things like telemedicine — I’m not downplaying any of that. But we really focused on the human aspect of support. It wasn’t about people giving an extra 10 percent; it was people giving everything they had to the point of exhaustion. It was unbelievable.
Making those phone calls is one of the most fun and the easiest things we do. If we give out 10,000 of these, it’s 10,000 too short, because there are so many people out there who deserve recognition. I encourage you and everybody else to nominate someone who you think deserves recognition. It’s a simple process.
Gamble: That’s great. I remember speaking to Aaron Miri, who was one of the nominees, and he said the recognition was for the entire team. I think it’s great for them to be able to show that to their teams and let them know that they’re being recognized.
Branzell: I think we will all look back and lament the losses and the deaths during this time, but we also look back with great pride and fondness to the industry’s ability to rise to the occasion. What these people have done during this time has been super human. They did things nobody thought we could do, whether that’s the providers on the frontline, and our little niche, which is the healthcare technology leaders and the digital health leaders. There is zero doubt in my mind that there are people alive today because of the work they did. That’s pretty awesome.
Gamble: It is, definitely. And you’ve been in Florida mostly?
Branzell: We bounce back and forth between Georgia and Florida. It’s been good and challenging at the same time, when you go from being on the road for 200 days to staying put. Until recently, I hadn’t taken a flight since March of 2020—even getting on a plane again was a bit traumatic. But for our teams, our family, it’s been tough. For some it has been especially difficult, especially those who are social beings.
Simon Synek once said something like, I don’t plan on getting back to normal because there is no normal. It’s just the next chapter. We’ll figure out the next chapter of this crazy world and we’ll move forward in a great and positive way, and do everything we can to make an impact.
I’m blessed to be in this industry. We all are. We’re blessed beyond any human belief to be where we are, doing what we’re doing today. It’s just a great opportunity.
Gamble: It is. That’s a great way to put it. I have to let you go, but it’s been nice talking to you, and I hope to see you in the fall.
Branzell: That’s our plan. Without a doubt, we plan on getting together. As always, thank you for what you do.