By Jef Williams
As managing partner for a medical imaging consulting agency, I am required to attend between 5-10 conferences a year. Some of these events are purely educational, some involve client engagement, others are opportunities to present content as part of our effort to give back to the community that continues to challenge and inspire us. I began this journey in imaging in the early 2000s and have worked with and for many different types of organizations. I have had the opportunity to watch as our landscape has changed. While there are countless advances in health care, there continue to be challenges that are worthy of reflection as we begin a new decade. Here are some things to consider as we embark on a new decade of improving our world.
An Aging Population
Perhaps one of the biggest trends I have observed related to conference attendance over nearly 20 years is the rising median age of attendees. This is especially true in imaging technology and modality sectors. There are certainly very real reasons why we have not experienced a strong influx of new talent. We are competing for technology and computer science graduates who are drawn to social media, startups and video game companies. I believe there is a need to reinvest in outreach programs to build bridges to students who are interested in industries of real change and meaning. There is something special about investing a life into technology and innovation that is directly tied to improving health outcomes, patient experiences and even saving real lives.
I have seen several associations and societies doing more in this area and I applaud their efforts. But all of us who have benefited from careers in medical imaging and instrumentation can find mentees and people we can coach. Talking to the same people at every event is great for maintaining our networks, but we would serve our industry well by finding the first timers and welcoming them. We can share our stories and our experiences. Our companies need to create better career tracks to attract smart, young talent so we don’t disrupt our industry with a massive retirement movement over the next 10 years!
We’re So Different
As the industry accelerates due to shifts in delivery models, mergers and acquisitions, and technology innovation, we must address some of our legacy thought processes. When I entered health care I was told to prepare for working in an industry that sees itself as entirely different than every other industry. Over the years that has proven true by observing the challenges to best practice exercises coming out of areas that are different. We struggle with simply sharing and adopting workflow and implementation models from other organizations within health care. That resistance is even greater when there are ideas and models brought to health care from outside the industry. There are, however, some very critical forces changing how we provide, pay for and support health care that require us to see where others have realized success with similar forces.
Everyone is aware that the cost model for health care and it’s continued expansion of the GNP is unsustainable. Simply put, we must figure out how to do more with less. This problem statement has been a part of open market systems for as long as there has been free enterprise. We’ve observed the models adopted by finance, retail, manufacturing and others. While there are certainly both large and small differences, health care must move toward a learning model that takes proven ideas, contextualizes them within the health care space, and acts to adopt and mature these. The rise of Wal-Mart, CVS, Amazon and others as health care providers proves that change has come and our ability to consume and adapt will be critical to our ongoing success.
The Empty Chair
The roundtables, conferences, webinars and thought leadership forums have been wrestling with all of this change for years. The last decade brought exponential momentum into how ideas are generated, shared and learned including telemedicine, payer models, artificial intelligence and patient engagement. There is no lack of opportunity to avail one’s self to an number of ways to participate and learn in the dialogue. The focus is nearly always on improvement – in care, delivery, access, management, operations, technology and engagement. But there seems to be almost always someone missing. Too much of our time in planning and strategizing on improvement, we move along without engaging actual patients. Out of the 5-10 conferences I attend every year, almost none have any way to accommodate patient attendance – let alone create forums and platforms for them to speak.
We have, for years, lamented the lack of customer engagement in technology advances. Many argue that vendors design and innovate based on product strategies more than on problem statements. It’s technology focused and not clinician or provider focused. I would argue we struggle along with our narrative toward improvement by making the same mistake. There is almost no dialogue that would not be improved by engaging actual patients. Consider patient monitoring and instrumentation – what is their experience? Consider image and medical record sharing – what is their experience? Consider payment and payer concerns – what is their experience? Consider the value of AI and where it should be applied to improve the entire care continuum – what is their experience?
We need to engage patients beyond the care encounter or with post-care surveys. Let’s invite them into our quorums to apply their unique and critical perspectives.
I’m excited for 2020 and beyond for health care. We have many hurdles and obstacles. We also have some of the most dedicated and intelligent people from clinicians to administration to technology. There is far to go, but together we can achieve great things.
Jef Williams, MBA, PMP, CIIP, is a managing partner at Paragon Consulting Partners.