Several weeks ago I was invited to speak to a Masters of Health Informatics class at the University of Toronto along with two health IT thought leaders who I admire and respect. Richard Booth, of the two instructors for the class, asked me and the other two invited guests to offer our thoughts on several topics including our advice to the students as they pondered their career options. I offered the following advice:
Learn from other industries. While healthcare, like other industries, has unique characteristics, it also shares many similarities. Since many other industries are further advanced in their use of information technology and in managing the digital information that they collect, they offer many lessons that can be applied to healthcare. I encouraged the students to seek out these lessons and figure out how they might be applied to the delivery of healthcare services.
To make my advice more concrete, I cited The Ottawa Hospital as an example of an organization that is actively seeking best practice examples from other industries. For starters, The Ottawa Hospital’s CIO, Dale Potter, was hired specifically for his experience in other industries. In turn, Dale has engaged organizations outside the health sector and created learning opportunities for his staff. One such organization is Nav Canada, the agency responsible for air traffic control in Canada. According to Dale, Nav Canada’s focus on moving people safely through the skies is similar in many ways to ensuring optimal patient flow through a hospital.
Listen and Observe. Mark Douglas, co-founder of this blog and my frequent sounding board, likes to remind me that God gave us two ears and one mouth and that we should use them in that ratio. Effective IT professionals in any industry are the ones that learn the business in which they work and figure out how to make IT useful to the organization and the people that work there. I encouraged the class to take the time to listen to and observe the people delivering healthcare services and to work with them to figure how IT can make the most impact in their day to day activities.
Technology Drives Strategy. My final piece of advice was, admittedly and quite purposefully, intended to buck what I see as a commonly accepted practice in healthcare IT. I have heard numerous presentations over the past year make that the case that business strategy and objectives should drive IT plans and architecture. While I don’t argue that the merit of this seemly prevailing viewpoint, I think that it ignores the often disruptive nature of continued technology evolution.
Technology can and does drive business strategy. Hence, I believe that one of the important roles of the healthcare IT professional is understand the possible impact of technology evolution on business strategy and to help the organization understand how it can take advantage of technology developments. IT will drive business strategy as much as business objectives will drive IT strategy, whether an organization likes it or not.