I will never forget the first time I saw a laptop fiercely smashed into a wall from an unhappy clinician.
In almost Hollywood movie magic, time seemed to slow down (a la The Matrix), and I could see the black and silver laptop being flung through the air. When it hit the surgical white wall, it gloriously exploded into chunks of plastic and pieces.
The orthopedic surgeon was throwing the laptop at the wall due to complete technology frustration. Was it overkill? Sure. Was it warranted? No. But could I empathize with him and his frustration? Yes.
When I was asked to write a blog about what I have learned as a Healthcare IT leader, I paused to really think about what are some of those trials and tribulations that cause some people to, understandably, run for the hills or cause some to keep wanting to help?
The goal for every healthcare IT leader is to help those very same clinicians that interface with technology — and sometimes decide to take out frustrations on technology — to get to where they are going faster, better, and more efficiently. The problem exists in the disconnect between many of the software and hardware developers for the healthcare vertical, and the reality on the clinical front lines. Clinical staff do not play by the same rules, as say, a finance banking team does. There is no 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift where if something doesn’t work, you can just come back tomorrow.
Unfortunately, not everyone understands this mindset. From a technology sense, it is a tough balance to achieve — like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Thus, the opportunity exists for a tremendous amount of frustration and re-work, and ultimately could lead to an even steeper price in terms of quality patient care and good clinical outcomes. Perhaps it boils down to the fact that not everyone has the empathy and desire to understand the problem before solving it.
Sometimes it’s the little things that can make the day. I remember a call I received from an operating room nurse asking if I could come down and speak with a disgruntled surgeon who had just finished with a procedure. Always happy to oblige, I walked over and offered to help. Sure enough the doctor pointed to one of the operating room medical devices, which was shoved into the corner, and said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “This piece of garbage isn’t working.” One look at it and even my 5-year-old daughter would’ve noticed the lights flickering on the front panel, with the machine appearing as if it were suffering a slow and ghastly death. When I looked, I saw that the manufacturer had placed a pair of USB ports on the top of the device. And surprisingly, there was an iPhone charging on one of the ports.
Once I unplugged the phone, the lights on the panel stopped flickering and machine whirled back up to life, good as new. At this point, the surgeon reached out for his phone and simply stated, “where else am I supposed to charge this thing?!” Shortly after, we introduced dedicated stations near the Operating Suite for clinicians to charge their mobile devices. We hadn’t considered that in the sometimes grueling operating procedures that can last several hours, clinicians simply wanted to come out of the fog of war to check their phones and disconnect from reality, like the rest of the world. Once again, it came down to empathy.
At the end of the day, people come to the hospital for one of two reasons: they need help or they are there to provide help. As healthcare leaders, we can choose to utilize technology that either aligns to that mission or does not. It’s that simple. The same goes for actually understanding the role of a healthcare technology leader. Do you engage with clinicians, in the clinical arena? Do you understand that the nurse you’re speaking with could be working a double shift because census is high and the acuity of the unit demands a nurse-to-patient ratio with more? Do you understand that the physician you’re engaging with probably has to go home and chart in the EMR until 3 a.m. so that the hospital can finalize the chart and submit the claim for reimbursement with all of the right diagnosis codes? Do you understand that the patient in room 605 just found out he has a terminal diagnosis and has decided to yell out in frustration at the medical staff, and you happen to have walked right up at that very same moment? There is that word again, empathy.
And while we may never be able to fit a square peg into a round hole, if we have empathy, we’ll be much better equipped to find solutions that enable clinicians to do their jobs more effectively.
This is the first in a two-part series written by Aaron Miri, who current serves as CIO and VP of Government Relations with Imprivata, and has previously held roles on the provider side, including CIO (Walnut Hill Medical Center), CTO (Children’s Medical Center) and IT director. The next piece will focus on the importance of demonstrating “soft skills” such as patience and the ability to remain calm under fire. To follow him on Twitter, click here.