Tag Archives: HIMSS

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:


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.”


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.


Social Media Panel at HIMSS Ontario AGM

It was an offer simply to compelling to refuse.  In my day job I was approached by HIMSS Ontario to sponsor their annual general meeting.  In return for this sponsorship I was given the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on social media.  Given my company’s current efforts to encourage use of social media by healthcare organizations AND my personal involvement in various social media activities, I jumped at the opportunity.

The HIMSS Ontario AGM takes place next week on June 23rd, 2011 at the Royal Woodbine Golf Club; check out details here.   Four panelists will discuss “The impact of social media on health and healthcare”.    The panelists are:

  • Richard Booth, a doctoral candidate at the University of Western Ontario and a fellow social media advocate
  • Karim Keshavjee, MD, and CEO, Infoclin.
  • James Williams, a privacy consultant
  • Glenn Lanteigne, CIO, SouthWest LHIN

This panel offers a diverse perspective on social media and I look forward to a stimulating discussion.  Colleen Young, #hcsmca founder and expert community manager, has agreed to tweet from the event.

Anyone thinking about how to use social media in their healthcare organization should consider attending this event.  If you read this blog and decide to attend, please make sure that you introduce yourself.  I really enjoy meeting readers. For those of you who cannot attend the event, I encourage you to send your questions for the panel to either Colleen or me in advance of the event or even during the event.


Will eHealth 2011 be Social Media Friendly?

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I attended the annual HIMSS conference held this year in sunny Orlando.   Like Crysta Anderson who recently blogged about how social media friendly the event was, I too was impressed by the extent to which HIMSS encouraged use of social media.  From free wi-fi (something not available at the Toronto Metro convention centre except in select locations for last year’s OHA HealthAchieve conference) to a social media booth, bloggers and tweeters were made to feel welcome and were encouraged to share their views and experiences.

Will the annual Canadian eHealth conference scheduled to take place this year in Toronto be as social media friendly?  Hopefully the experience will be better than it was at last year’s event in Vancouver – hardly anyone was tweeting from the event.   COACH, are you listening?  Besides having a twitter handle, what will you be doing to encourage bloggers?  Also, vendors, take note.  A number of vendors at HIMSS held tweetups in their exhibit booths and GE Healthcare even treated a number of bloggers (including me) to an evening a Universal’s Islands of Adventure.


Another Interesting Social Media Initiative

When asked about social media many people will mentionTwitter or Facebook or even LinkedIn. Mentioned less often is Wikis, a technology that allows multiple people to contribute to developing on-line information resources. According an article in Healthcare IT News, HIMSS has launched a CPOE wiki “with the goal of bringing data, documents and guidelines on meeting and exceeding meaningful use in one location”. The article quotes HIMSS Enterprise CPOE Workgroup chairman Dr. Paul Kleeberg as saying “Physicians, nurses, implementation staff, pharmacists and anyone supporting the adoption and use of CPOE can find and contribute valuable information resources on the wiki.”

HIMSS use of wikis offers yet another example of the many different ways that social media can be used to engage members of a community.   Do you have any interesting examples of how social media that you’d like to share?


Regulating HIT Software in Canada and the US

I have been following the debate regarding Health Canada regulation of HIT software (including physician EMR software) and have written several blog posts on this topic.  While the Canadian debate seems to have taken place after the regulations were put in place and decisions made to actively enforce them, the US debate is taking place BEFORE decisions regarding how best to regulate health IT for patient safety are made.

As it does for many issues facing the health IT industry, HIMSS is seeking input from the community on how best “to foster a large scale dialogue on the issue”.   In a recent blog post (HIMSS actively engages its members and the broader community through blogs and other social media), HIMSS summarizes the current situation in the US and poses the question “What should be the role of the federal government in ensuring the patient safety of health IT products and the settings in which they are utilized?”

Do we need a similar debate in Canada or is the matter already decided?  I fear that much of the debate in Canada is taking place behind closed doors and that there is little opportunity for input from the broader stakeholder community.


HIMSS Lobbies US Congress

HIMSS, a US association representing both IT professionals and health IT vendors, has and continues to the lobby the US congress on various matters related to use and adoption of IT by US healthcare organizations.  According to a recent article in Healthcare IT News, the association recently encouraged participants at the HIMSS Policy Summit in Washington to “ask lawmakers to ensure that any future policy pertaining to electronic health record incentive programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act balance meaningful use criteria and measures with industry readiness, without delaying the timeline for implementation.”

Health IT vendors are an  important stakeholder group in the drive to digitize healthcare and their input is critical to shaping effective eHealth policies and strategies.  In the US, HIMSS, on behalf of the vendor community, regularly comments on government policy discussions and decisions.   According to the Healthcare IT News article, HIMSS’s policy agenda also includes:

  • encouraging the US Congress to “enable the study of an informed patient identity solution
  • “pushing Congress to work with the Obama Administration to make the current physician self-referral exemptions, or Stark exemptions, and anti-kickback safe harbors permanent”

Although HIMSS has an Ontario chapter, I have seen no indication of similar lobbying efforts by HIMSS in Canada.  ITAC Health and the Canadian Medical Association  held a two-day think tank earlier this spring which I was privileged to attend.  A communique from this think tank is expected this summer.


COACH eHealth 2010 – Attendance

I had planned on blogging everyday during the eHeatlh 2010 conference in Vancouver.  Unfortunately, early in the conference I developed a nasty chest cold and it was all I could do to get through each day.  By the end of the day all I wanted to do was go to bed … blogging, unfortunately, was the last thing on my mind.

After several days of rest and pampering at my in-law’s place near Vernon, BC, I am starting to feel somewhat human again and I have the energy to resume my blogging activities.  In my last (and only) blog post on the eHealth conference, I mused as to whether attendance was down over previous years.  According to several people with whom I spoke the official attendance figure was just over 1700 people.  This figure compares with 1597 in 2009 (Quebec City) and 1700 in 2008 (Vancouver).

While attendance at eHealth 2010 did break the previous attendance record, the increase in attendance over the previous record was modest.  For all intents and purposes, attendance at the eHealth conference has been relatively stable for the past few years.  A similar attendance trend has been noted for the annual HIMSS conference in the US: 27,855 in 2010,  27,627 in 2009, and 29,100 in 2008.  Given the economic climate in both countries and the fallout of the eHealth Ontario scandal in Canada (which started to break in earnest at last year’s eHealth conference), a modest gain over the previous record is perhaps quite an accomplishment.


Canadian Healthcare IT Associations and Government Advocacy

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) has taken an active role in promoting healthcare IT and eHealth among US government policy makers and politicians.  Some have even accused HIMSS as behaving like a lobbyist organization:


While I don’t want to debate whether HIMSS is acting as a lobbyist (I take them at their word that they are not), I do think that they are providing an effective voice for the healthcare IT industry in the U.S.   I have heard complaints that Canadian healthcare related associations such as ITAC Health or COACH are not as effective in this regard.  What is your view?  Are they effectively representing their members views / concerns at the provincial and federal government level?  If not, should they step up their efforts in this regard?   If so, are there efforts effectively communicated to their members?  Should they even be trying to do so?