An article in Information Week caught my eye recently . It reviews a new program offered by Texas A&M with support from Dell to help medical students and other healthcare professionals “come to terms with the ways technology is changing their jobs”. The article, Doctors Can Go Back to Tech School, says Texas A&M will launch its new health technology academy later this year as part of its continuing medical education program.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for education and career improvement. I’m just not sure that the best way to improve Health IT is to get more physicians trained in IT so they can, as the article suggests, move into IT roles. How about giving full time clinicians who have an interest in improving Health IT some extra support and time so they can help those who work in IT better understand what clinicians need to do their jobs efficiently and safely? How about just a little paid time away from the daily treadmill of patient care to educate IT about the nuances of medicine and clinical workflow? I believe understanding that would do more to help IT deliver better solutions.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been many things. First and foremost, I am a physician. Only a true clinician understands how clinicians think and work. For many years, I continued to practice even when it no longer made a whole lot of sense with regards to my income or available time. I was a biology major in college. I went to medical school and did a residency in family medicine. I never had any formal training in either business or technology. I learned the ropes by doing. It was often trial by fire. I’ve had my share of success as well as a few failures along the way. When I advanced into the role of a hospital CIO and CMIO, it wasn’t because I knew tech. When my then CEO asked me to step into the CIO role, I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, “I want to put a civilian in charge of the military”, meaning a doctor in charge of a department that existed to serve clinicians and their patients but had become a renegade army running out of control and way over budget.
What I lacked in technical knowledge, I was able to hire and manage. I surrounded myself with really smart people who could execute on what I as a clinician envisioned that could better serve my professional colleagues and their patients. Looking back on it, I think we did some really good work together. During my time as a CMIO, I always viewed my role as a kind of “interpreter”. My job was to listen and communicate back and forth between IT and my fellow clinicians using a language that both sides could understand equally.
All of this eventually paved a path to where I am today, in a role not all that different from my “interpreter” days as a CMIO. I now help a multi-billion dollar, worldwide tech company better understand health and healthcare while helping my professional colleagues learn how to apply our technologies to improve patient care and community health around the globe.
I’m not sure that sending docs to tech school is the answer. Goodness knows the time and education required to become, and continue to perform as, a really good clinician is demanding enough. Considering that the people who get into medical school are generally some of the smartest among us, they will pick up what they need to know about tech. I’d rather they spend their time learning how to be really great clinicians, and then using that knowledge to help tech understand how to develop the software, devices and services that will allow clinicians everywhere do their work without needing an extra degree in Health IT.