Tag Archives: COACH

Hackathons: More Than a Spectator Event

This article originally appeared in Healthcare Information Management & Communications Canada

In just a few short years the Hacking Health hackathon has become a fixture at the annual Canadian eHealth conference.  While many eHealth attendees find the pitches and solution presentations highly entertaining (particularly with the high-energy Hacking Health co-founder Luc Sirois as the master of ceremonies), these hackathons are more than a spectator event … they are an opportunity for attendees to share their experience and expertise to make a difference.

Hacking Health held its first hackathon five years ago in Montreal.  Since then, Hacking Health has grown to 45 active chapters around the world.  In 2016, these local chapters organized and hosted 161 events including 28 hackathons.

I was initially skeptical of the value of hackathons.  In a December 2013 Technology for Doctors commentary, I noted that “for all the good intentions of those involved, I am not yet sold on the value of hackathons for the Canadian healthcare system, at least as they are currently constituted.”

I was reminded of my initial reticence when I attended the first Ottawa health hackathon in April.   While I must confess that I am not a fan of the over-the-top enthusiasm reminiscent of a multi-level marketing event that seems to be the hallmark of Hacking Health events, I enjoyed the opening night pitches until I noticed the Hacking Health tagline emblazoned on an organizer’s t-shirt:

“Bringing Innovation to Healthcare”

I have an almost allergic reaction whenever the word “innovation” is mentioned.   It has become an over-used word that is quickly losing any sense of real meaning.  As I proclaimed in my “Innovation Rant” at eHealth 2014, I am aghast that a word once reserved to herald inventions such as the personal computer, the cell phone and the Internet has been reduced to a marketing buzzword used to describe products as banal as peanut butter pop-tarts.

Equally troubling, is the “element of hubris to medical hackathons” described by Brian Palmer, Chief Explainer for Slate.  In an April 2014 article entitled “Are Hackathons the Future of Medical Innovation,” Mr. Palmer notes that there are many problems that experts around the world have been trying to solve for years and that there is no shortage of ideas for how best to address them.

If we consider the advances in medical sciences, it is hard not to think of the health sector as innovative. A March 2015 McLean’s article noted that “recent innovations in modern medicine are nothing short of miraculous,” citing kidney transplants performed with minimal surgical invasion via robots and prosthetic eyes that give partial sight to the blind as but two examples.

Yet, the same McLean’s article also observes that “despite advancements in the OR, something as simple as locating the right equipment, or the right doctor, can often leave hospital staff feeling like they’re stuck playing a game of hide-and-seek.”

A similar theme can be found in many of my wife’s blog posts on the patient experience.   Writing about wait times, Tracy (aka The Madness Maven) cites the impact that simple changes can make. For example, a screen that displays a patient’s first name and the number of minutes until they can be seen can have a dramatic impact on the patient experience and, she suspects, the organization’s bottom line.

So, while the Hacking Health vision is certainly ambitious and perhaps even a bit audacious, it makes more sense if innovation is viewed not as an outcome but as a means to an end.

Scott Anthony, author of “The Little Black Book of Innovation”, offers a simple definition of this outcome – “something different that has impact.” These impacts need not be momentous or life changing but, like the screen showing the current wait mentioned in Tracy’s blog post, are felt and appreciated by those to whom they matter.

When viewed from this perspective, the role of Hacking Health in driving change in the health sector is much clearer.  Quite simply, Hacking Health creates opportunities for people who might not otherwise collaborate to tackle healthcare challenges not easily addressed within the walls of any one organization.

The power of the collaborations that Hacking Health seeks to promote is enhanced by the diversity of the participants’ skills and experiences. While media attention of the recent Ottawa hackathon focused on developers, designers, and physicians (and ignored other groups such as patients), the collaborative process that Hacking Health promotes thrives on diversity.

This year Hacking Health is collaborating with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) to tackle workplace mental health and wellbeing at the eHealth 2017 hackathon.

The eHealth hackathon offers a unique opportunity for everyone attending the show to participate in the hackathon process.  I encourage everyone to spend an hour during the conference visiting the various teams as they develop their solutions.

Be more than spectator. Ask the teams what they are trying to achieve.  Offer your feedback.   Share your experiences.  You might just have the insight they need to make a breakthrough.  You might also learn something new that you can apply in your own organization.

You can check out  Tracy’s blog at themadnessmaven.ca

COACH Board of Directors Candidate – Shiran Isaacksz

I have posted several articles recently related COACH,  Canada’s Health Informatics Association, including one promoting the annual eHealth conference co-hosted by COACH.  In this post I’d like to draw COACH members’ attention to the upcoming board of directors elections.

As the governing body for COACH, the board of directors sets the long term vision and provides strategic direction.   Six highly qualified individuals are standing for election for three positions.    I urge all COACH members to take a few minutes to check out each of the candidates’ profiles on the COACH website and, equally important, to cast your votes before April 15th.

I’d like to introduce one of these candidates, Shiran Isaacksz.  I asked Shiran to provide a brief overview of his background and qualifications for the COACH board.  His response follows.

Shiran Isaacksz has been actively involved as the Senior Director at University Health Network for the Regional/Provincial Portfolio.  In this role, he has led the ConnectingGTA (cGTA) Program and the GTA West Diagnostic Imaging Repository Program over the past 6 years. Shiran has shown strong leadership and effective stakeholder engagement, as he leads two very complex, regional initiatives.

At the local level, he is also the Senior Director responsible for the Resource Matching and Referral initiative in the Toronto Central LHIN and he is a member of the Senior Management team at the Toronto Central Community Care Access Centre, overseeing the organization’s IM Strategic Plan.

He is known for his broad system’s thinking and pragmatic approach to move complex projects forward.  Shiran has been very collaborative in his manner dealing with many health service provides across the continuum of care, eHealth Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Canada Health Infoway.

To better understand the unique experiences, passion and commitment that he will bring as a member of the COACH Board, please visit his candidate profile on the COACH website:  http://www.coachorg.com/en/membership/Shiran-Isaacksz-2015.asp

Mike

Why I attend the Canadian eHealth Conference

As winter ever so slowly releases its icy grip, my thoughts turn not only to spring and warmer weather but also to the approaching e-Health Conference. Since attending my first e-Health Conference in 2004, this event has become a tradition that I eagerly await with nearly the same anticipation I feel for major holidays. What is it about this Conference that makes it such a “must attend” event for me?

Check out the rest of the article on the eHealth conference blog … click here

Mike

An interview with Mike Barron of COACH: A president’s prespective

This blog post contains an article that was originally published in the March 2015 print edition of Canadian Healthcare Technology magazine:

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The Canadian Organization for the Advancement of Computers in Health is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. More commonly referred to as COACH, this stalwart of the Canadian health IT sector has consistently championed the cause of digital health and advocated on behalf of the health informatics professionals who make it possible.   What does the future hold for COACH? Why should someone join COACH? I put these and other questions to Mike Barron, the current COACH president, in an interview just prior to the Christmas holidays.

Introducing Mike Barron

Ordinarily I would refer to the subject of an article by their last name; e.g. Mr. Barron. However, in this case, doing so simply doesn’t suit the personality of the man. He is one of the most affable and down to earth executives I know.   He pulls no punches yet manages not to offend, no matter how blunt his comments might be.   Mr. Barron just seems too formal and stuffy for such an approachable and friendly man. Instead, I will his first name.

I asked Mike how he ended up working healthcare. Mike explained that his first “main job” was with the Royal Commission on Hospital and Nursing Home Costs in the mid 1980’s.   Two years later, he moved to the General Hospital Corporation in St. John’s to take on the Director of Information Systems. This role, he explained, introduced to him to the “complexities of healthcare.” It was, in Mike’s words, a “rewarding yet challenging” assignment.

At the turn of the century Mike joined the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information (NLCHI) during what he referred to as their “early days.” In 2006, Mike was appointed NLCHI’s CEO.

Given his rather demanding job, I asked Mike why he devotes time to COACH. He explained that when he first joined NLCHI, Canada Health Infoway in its formative years and he was involved in various federal / provincial / territorial (FPT) committees. These committees gave him a “taste of national vision and leadership.”

Getting involved at the board level at COACH was a natural extension of his other national roles. According to Mike, it gave him “an opportunity to participate in an organization outside government” that involved both public and private sector organizations.

Mike has devoted his working career to working in the health sector. Healthcare, Mike observed, is “something that glues us together as Canadians besides hockey” and is subject about which he is unabashedly passionate. His involvement in COACH provides him another outlet besides NLCHI to feed this passion.

COACH’s Role

When asked how COACH fits into the complex Canadian digital health ecosystem, Mike replied that it is the “glue for the health informatics environment.” While COACH is not, in Mike’s words “a one stop shop”, he does feel that it is, “a place where people from different communities can gather.”

Some people with whom I have spoken wonder how COACH is different from HIMSS, an organization with Canadian chapters that is also focused on digital health. Mike pointed out that COACH “offers more accessibility and more meaningful engagement.” While HIMSS supports a “largely private sector constituency, COACH “brings together public sector necessity and private sector reality.”

Some people have suggested that there might be economies of scale to be gained by combining COACH and ITAC Health to create the Canadian equivalent of HIMSS. I asked Mike what he thought of this suggestion. While he did not rule out the possibility in the longer term, he felt that it was important to recognize that “in the current environment, we need to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the constituencies that these groups represent” as well as “the contributions that these associations offer today.”

Mike pointed out that many of the same benefits attributed to the merging of two organizations could also be achieved by partnering. He pointed to collaborative efforts with ITAC Health and CHIMA as examples. “As Canadians, we are not predatory in nature,” Mike noted. “Partnerships are often a preferred model.”

Membership

According to Mike, membership has remained stable between 1,400 and 1,800 members. HIMSS, by comparison boasts 52,000+ members. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in the Canadian digital health community have opted not to join COACH.

I asked Mike about COACH’s plans to grow membership, a stated objective in their 2014-2017 strategic plan. He replied, “You don’t need numbers to denote success.” Instead, COACH is striving to “balance quality and quantity.” He went on to say that COACH is looking for “engaged members” who can “carry the message into various areas of the health system.”

So, why should someone join COACH? Without hesitation Mike rattled off a number of reasons, all sharing two common themes. First, COACH is one of the most effective ways for anyone with an interest in digital health to broaden their horizons. COACH, Mike observed, offers “exposure at very low cost to an extensive knowledge base” and “provides information about and exposure to different areas of health informatics.”

Second, COACH offers an opportunity to become a more active participant in the healthcare system and to join, as Mike describes it, “a complete national network of very bright and experienced healthcare professionals.”

Annual eHealth Conference

For many people, the COACH brand is most closely associated with the annual eHealth conference co-hosted by COACH. Over the past few years both revenue and attendance have declined leading some people to question the conference’s relevancy. Mike acknowledged that there is a “need to make it more applicable and attractive” but also asserted “as a conference it will remain relevant by sheer nature that it is the only national conference.”

While there are factors such as travel restrictions over which COACH has little control, Mike was emphatic that the annual eHealth conference is an event to which COACH is committed. He spoke about a number of ideas for refreshing the annual eHealth conference, starting with a “need to embrace youth.” According to Mike, COACH and its partners are “concentrating on bringing value and entertainment” and striving to “make the conference a more diverse experience.”

On a Personal Note

I closed up my interview with Mike by asking about his personal goals for his two-year tenure as COACH president. He told me that he had two goals. First, he is “very much into strengthening COACH as a sustainable entity” which, he said, was a natural extension of his involvement in the business side of COACH for many years. His second goal is “to reach out to the youth element.” He wants to create a critical mass of members under 40 years old to “carry the torch” after he and other long-time members retire.

As we concluded the interview, we spoke briefly about his life outside work. I learned that his favourite movie is any of the The Godfather movies.   According to Mike, “you can always use a quote from the movie.”

In Summary

I always enjoying speaking with Mike and my interview was no exception. As a ten year COACH member I was more pumped and enthused about COACH than I have been in a long time.

Are you a COACH member? If so, why? If not, why not? Drop me a line at michael.martineau@avenant.ca comment on my blog posts on this topic at eHealthMusings.ca.

COACH / HIMSS Ontario Update 2015

For the second year in a row COACH and HIMSS Ontario are hosting Ontario Update, a one day conference at which key public sector leaders share their insights and offer updates on local, regional and provincial eHealth initiatives.

Speakers at Ontario Update 2015  include Michael Green from Canada Health Infoway, Sarah Hutchison from OntarioMD, Peter Bascom from eHealth Ontario and Dr. Ed Brown from OTN.     The day will include a panel discussion on the current status of the various “connecting” projects: cGTA, cSWO, and cNEO.

I have been a member of the organizing committee for this conference since its inception.  Last year we sold out and had a waiting list of people who wanted to attend.   There are still tickets available for this year but, given the opportunity to connect with public sector leader, these tickets will go quickly.

You can find more details at:

http://www.coachorg.com/en/newsandevents/ONUP-2015-Speakers—Agenda.asp

You can register at: https://ams.coachorg.com/events/list.aspx

I am looking forward to this opportunity to meet with the health IT leaders whose work I track and write about.  I hope to see you there!

Mike

eHealth has Jumped the Shark

This past May I attended, as I have every year for the past ten years, the annual Canadian eHealth conference. Held for the first time at the new Ottawa Convention Centre, the Canadian eHealth conference is a networking and educational event that attracts health IT decision makers, thought leaders, vendors, and users from across Canada as well as international delegates. As I listened to various presentations and chatted with people about their reactions to the presentations that they attended, I began to wonder whether eHealth as a concept has “jumped the shark” and is on its way to becoming irrelevant.

Read the rest of the article on Technology for Doctors

Mike

A BlackBerry in an iPhone World

On May 28th, 2012 Dr. John Halamka, a physician and highly regarded healthcare IT thought leader, delivered the opening keynote address at the annual Canadian eHealth conference held this year in Vancouver, BC. Dr. Halamaka demonstrated how health IT is transforming the hospital in which he works and offered practical advice on how Canadian healthcare organizations and professionals can realize similar benefits. Fail to innovate, he warned, and “you risk becoming a BlackBerry in an iPhone world.”

Check out the rest of my article in Technology for Doctors

Mike