On June 12, 2000, I started at Asante Health System working as an ER doc. My wife and I had just gotten married 3 months prior. She was 2 months pregnant. And I was a week out from just finishing my Emergency Medicine residency at UCLA.
At the time, we didn’t know much about Oregon or Asante other than the space is beautiful and the people are gold. We were in for an adventure. Over time, we were blessed to have four children born at our flagship hospital — two requiring NICU care — and raise them in the beautiful Rogue Valley. Over time, my career shifted from working in the system to working on the system and I’ve been blessed to be in a terrific job ever since.
Now comes another adventure. After working for Asante for 22 years, I will be leaving effective June 15. As you might imagine, this was a hard decision because of deep roots and great connections to my co-workers, colleagues and friends. Many of you have walked with me through the pandemic, southern Oregon wildfires, imminent regulatory changes and the list goes on. The overwhelming emotion I’m feeling right now is that of gratitude. Gratitude for the experiences, gratitude for the relationships we’ve built and gratitude for the willingness of the team to tackle really hard problems despite the obstacles. I want to thank each of you — and you know who you are — for all you’ve taught me on this amazing journey. I am committed to remaining connected despite geographic disparity.
And, as you might imagine, in times of change, there is often a natural inclination to reflect. As I thought about this journey, here’s what stared back at me:
People, Process and Technology
I’m not so sure nowadays. I think it’s more like real estate and location. Its people, people, people. If we don’t get that right, everything else falls apart because the people put in place the process (and process improvements) and select, implement, configure, maintain, and train the technology. People are what makes tech work.
If you are in the tech field, you know the pain of infinite desires and finite resources. In general, that’s a good thing; people want technology solutions and recognize value in technology. However, the imbalance between what is asked for and what can be delivered can destroy teams and morale. It is the duty of IT leadership to provide clarity on what front line staff are supposed to actually do on a daily basis. Our staff deserve clarity of purpose and clarity of work. As leaders, we can provide this clarity — even when it creates difficult conversations with other executive staff.
The most foundational work we will do as a team is to keep the lights on. KTLO. To aspire to become a High Reliability Organization (HRO). If the network or any of our core systems are fragile, it introduces massive business risk. HealthTech is complicated. It has many layers. It has history. Still, our first order of business is to assess current state. Using a maturity model framework so that we know where we’re good and where we might need some additional focus. And then we get to work. We craft industry best practice around standard work which includes redundancy with immediate failover, certificate management, stringent testing protocols and a transparent and blunt CAB (change advisory board) so that no changes are introduced without thorough vetting. We absolutely have to get this right. Our providers’ experience, and ultimately our patient’s health, depend upon it.
There’s a lot of talk about in terms of culture. Here are a few of my observations:
- Action: People watch what we do, not what we say. If we tolerate a bad or narcissistic employee because they get the job done, we are failing our team. It’s our duty to manage up or manage out team members who can’t do the work, won’t do the work or are insufferable to work with. There’s no excuse for not taking action, because the impact to team morale can be huge.
- Translate: As HealthTech leaders, we should understand the overarching mission, vision and values of the organization and translate them into our IT domain so that they are easily understood and remembered. If the teams understand the why behind our work, they will be able to connect many of the dots that we may never see, but which will surely arise as they do their work.
- Back: Our teams need to know that we have their back. Not that we will automatically take their side in a conflict, but rather that we will not assign judgement until we fully hear them out and understand their perspective. I recall having a supervisor in a prior job who always assumed any complaint against me was valid and immediately began discussing corrective actions. He ultimately left the organization, and was replaced by someone who fairly and impartially heard all sides before landing on a conclusion. And when in doubt, he never threw me under the bus. I would have taken a bullet for that guy. He had my back by simply being fair. And he earned my loyalty along the way. Our teams deserve this.
Well, these are just a small sample of the many lessons learned along this awesome journey. Thanks for reading if you got this far. Moving forward, I’m looking forward to learning more and sharing more. In fact, in a few weeks I will be happy to share where we are headed. On this next adventure, here’s hoping the space is beautiful and the people are gold.
Written by Lee Milligan, MD, this piece was originally published on LinkedIn. To view the original post, click here.