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Healthcare IT: The Sidekick’s Lament

February 16, 2013

By: Charlie Harp

If Healthcare were an epic blockbuster, it would be a story that would revolve around four main characters: The Patient, The Problem , The Provider and Healthcare IT.

The Patient is a sympathetic character – they are in trouble and the odds are stacked against them.

The Provider is the hero, brave and bold and prepared to do whatever it takes to help the Patient against the odds.

The Problem is the villain in this story, malevolent and inscrutable, it stalks the Patient and conspires to thwart the Provider’s best efforts to keep the Patient safe.

What is the role of Healthcare IT in this story?
The well-meaning, yet bumbling cop that tries to help the hero, but is always two steps behind?

The educated profiler that thinks they know better than the hero, but their arrogance leads them to the wrong conclusions at a critical point in the story?

The vehicle that constantly breaks down when the villain is getting away?

The overly enthusiastic, quirky nerd sidekick that can hack NORAD, recognize boot patterns in the mud and reconstruct facial patterns from an eyelash recovered from the scene of the crime?
I am sure we can all think of stories we experienced where Healthcare IT fit in each of these roles.  The important thing to remember is that these are all supporting roles. Healthcare IT is never the hero.  This can be hard to take as a solution provider, as everyone wants to be the hero.

Don’t get me wrong, the sidekick will have their moments to shine.  Whether they are telling the hero that the villain has a glass eye, they shout “duck!” at the right moment or they discover that “to serve patients” is a cook book, their support can mean the difference between a happy or unhappy ending. Regardless of the circumstances, for the sidekick to make a difference, they need to do their job supporting the hero.  If the sidekick forgets this, they run the risk of getting in the way of the hero, or worse.

So, if we are to embrace our role as sidekick, what would make us a good one?

The characteristics of an good sidekick:

Knowledge – the best sidekicks are those that have access to information.  Especially information that the hero needs to do their job.

Understanding – they need to understand what the hero is dealing with so that they can apply their knowledge in a way that provides meaningful advice (as opposed to trivia).

Experience – a good sidekick remembers previous capers.  This experience augments their knowledge and understanding and keeps the hero from repeating mistakes made in the past.

Timeliness – they need to be there when the hero needs them.

Respect – they need to remember that the hero is in charge…unless.

Unless what?  We can all think of a story where the hero says “stay in the car” but the sidekick gets out of the car.  For this article I did some research.  I watched a number of crime drama episodes with a hero-sidekick paradigm, and the stats are as follows:  My research is based on ten instances where the hero said “stay in the car”, and the sidekick disobeyed.  In two of those instances, the sidekick saved the hero from the villain (because the Villain “got the drop” on the hero).  In eight of the instances, the sidekick’s involvement resulted in heightened drama and increased risk for the hero, the victim and the sidekick (think de-install).

Based on this hard scientific, evidence-based research, my conclusion is “Stay in the car, unless you have a really, really good reason.”

Where are we today?

I think that if you were to ask providers, a number of them would say “Stay in the car”.  This is a reflection of where we are in our evolution as an industry.  We are feeling the growing pains of orchestrating the art and science of medicine, the ambiguity of human communication and the complexity of knowledge representation into something that will help providers do their job.

We are making progress and will continue to do so.  The intervals between our shining moments are getting shorter.  If we remember our role, and focus on expanding on those abilities that will make us awesome sidekicks, we can play a significant role in the healthcare story.

Clinical Architecture’s mission is to provide the tools to enable Healthcare IT to be a better sidekick, to turn providers into Super Providers.  We believe that technology specifically designed to focus on the characteristics that make an excellent sidekick, through our relationships with innovative partners, will act as a catalyst in Healthcare IT.

We can’t change the role that we will play, but we can change the story.

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