I have worked in health Information Technology my entire professional career. In high school, I worked as a part-time nurse’s aide in a nursing home. In college, I worked in a hospital as a unit secretary, back before there were computers at the nurse’s station. I never wanted to be a nurse or physician,
but I am passionate about health care and what we do to improve people’s lives. I found the path for me is through health care IT.
But I still remember some of the elderly people that I cared for back at that nursing home: Anna, who never had a visitor but was the sweetest and most grateful little old lady you’d ever find. And Hilda, who was as demanding as any but turned on the charm to make sure you liked her and met her requests. Oscar, who was as grumpy and mean as anyone could be. And Ida, who fought us every time we tried to give her medicine; it took two people most of the time. In spite of their varying personalities and needs, we cared for all of them as best we could, with empathy and support.
My daughter used to joke when she was upset with us that she would put us in a cheap, bad nursing home far away. But for many, it’s no joke. My heart breaks for elderly people alone and without family visitors. I applaud a retired friend who has found “Meals on Wheels” to be his volunteer focus – what a wonderful way to show up for someone. I also applaud a recent retiree from the UMHS ambulatory services leadership team; I saw her in the hospital recently wearing a blue volunteer smock. She is there twice a week as a communion minister.
I remind my IT staff we are part of the extended care team – we don’t touch patients directly but the clinicians and caregivers who do depend on the systems we provide and support. Health care delivery will be even more dependent on IT solutions and innovations in the future.
We, IT people are too often removed from the reality of care that our organizations provide to patients and their families. IT work areas are now often in office complexes miles away from the space crunched hospital campus. We need to find creative ways to stay grounded in the important work we do.
Twice a week, we ask for a good news story before we close our IT leadership huddle. We recognize a staff member or remind ourselves of why we do what we do. Usually it is a staff recognition but occasionally it is a story about how we impacted patient care.
The tag lines of health care organizations remind us as well. Think of the power of these kinds of statements: “We improve health every day” (Sentara), “Amazing things are happening here” (New York Presbyterian), “Transforming medicine through life-giving breakthroughs” (Brigham and Women’s Hospital), “It begins with U” (UCLA Health), and “Redefining possible” (UCSF Health). And at UMHS, “The leaders and best” is what we strive to be every day.
One of my former bosses, mentors, and friends is John Glaser, PhD, Senior Vice President, Client Administration at Cerner. John is well known for his innovation, wisdom, and many contributions to our health IT industry. And he is one of the best writers I know. There are times when I read something from him and think I should just hang it up.
In the spirit of why we do what we do as HIT professionals, one of his more personal essays was “Beyond the Abstract: Health IT is Still About the People” published in H&HN in October. In that essay, John talks about his father’s last several months of life and how he helped him navigate the health care system. In his closing, he said “I love you, Dad. And I do what I do to help those who provide care to people like you.”
Special thanks to all the caregivers and support staff working holiday shifts since in health care, we never close.