Guest Editorial: Reflections on 40 Years of Passionate Service to Canadian Healthcare

We’ve come a long way in 40 years and we’ve seen things that don’t change. That seeming dichotomy of perspectives is applicable to much in healthcare and it is fully applicable to COACH. Since making my announcement to step down as CEO later this spring, I’ve had many warm messages of tribute for the identity, impact and respect that COACH has achieved and its coming of age as an essential and valued institute in this country and beyond. And since preparing for this 40th anniversary celebration I’ve also been struck by the consistency of message, action and leadership by the many who have blazed the health informatics pathways and shaped COACH into what it is today. Much has changed and much has stayed the same.

A 40th anniversary is a special time of reflection, celebration and looking ahead. The first point of reflection is to acknowledge the legacy of past founders, presidents, boards and members who set us on such a great pathway of associating together.

Steve Huesing, one of our founders and the force behind COACH’s beginnings and indeed the first 25 years of growth and development, provided foresight, leadership and stewardship for COACH. He has been the source of much of our connection and community over the years. Steve, along with Dennis Protti, Richard Hopkins, Marie Barrett, Robb Palmer and Rob Zukerman, (black & white photo above) launched COACH as a free-standing Canadian organization for the purpose of information exchange and dissemination and learning from one another.

Steve’s legacy includes this Journal, fondly known as the COACH Journal in our community, and now so ably carried on by his daughter Elaine Huesing. The cover of the first issue of this journal featured other COACH stalwarts such as Al Haskall, John Flint, John Mckenna, Judy Moran, John Hendriks and Kathryn Hannah, who along with others, including every President and Board Member, have provided the legacy of leadership, professionalism and mentorship that we all benefit from today.

Recognizing past and more recent contributions through COACH would take all the space of this column and much more. From the launching of our e-Health conferences in the 2000s, to our CHIEF, CHIA awards, CPHIMS-CA, CTF for telehealth, CCF for clinicians, Privacy & Security, eSafety and EP emerging professional programs, and, even more, to COACH white papers, national reports, education series, job postings and ever-increasing services for our 2,000+ members, the board directors, staff and volunteers of COACH have enabled the stellar achievements we now so appreciate and value.

Celebrating these achievements has given us the opportunity to review COACH publications and developments over the past four decades. And for all that has changed in that time, the 40th anniversary has awakened in me the realization of what so strongly applies today, as it equally did in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s.

Unwavering Service
In what all we do, we “garner our respective livelihoods because there’s a patient who requires a service. The things we do ought to contribute to the provision of that service.” Steve Huesing’s 1987 COACH Journal Issue #1 editorial opened with those words on service. And service today can be embodied in every part of our work. From coffee for colleagues to strategies for the board, from copy-editing the report to the 10th meeting of the day, to the most creative pitch ever to the client, when we try meet the challenges by applying our talents and time to the needs of others, we gain the intangible reward, “the reward that is a product of giving something back to an industry which provided one with sustenance.”

Steve said it and had it right, the HI community has served Canadian healthcare throughout four decades and we all try to live to that end today. Let’s celebrate that!

Unending Hard Work
If there’s a theme to what I hear across our HI community, it is that everyone is unceasingly hard at work. And that dedication is what it takes to meet the patient and population health needs in every jurisdiction. From my very early years on the farm, where driverless tractors, GPS-marked fields and robotic milking equipment were a dream, putting up the hay and getting the crop off simply took long days of hard work, instilled as an ethic of life by my parents. As we apply ourselves in the lifecycle of digital health solutions and services, in the hard times of financial constraint, in the demands of changing demographics and in the continual transforming of our health system, it simply takes heads- down, unending dedication and hard work — an ethic applied by the very many of our HI community, whether we learned that from the example of our parents many years ago, or see it in the endeavour of our colleagues today.

And our HI community has proven and successfully achieved what it has worked to do in every decade. We’ve advanced computer use in hospitals, we’ve grown hospital information systems everywhere, we’ve launched HI and the health information hi-way and we’ve taken e-records and HI mainstream. Let’s celebrate that!

Unyielding Passion
The recognition of the strong, long lasting, resilient and spirited attitude demonstrated by so many assures the future of health informatics. HI, at the age of 40, is beginning to have “generations” and I am so proud of our emerging generation of leaders and professionals. Those of us getting into our 60s – come on, I know there’s a couple more besides me! – deeply appreciate emerging professionals coming to the microphone, asking the tough questions and providing innovative solutions at our symposiums, think tanks and workshops. And those who are now Directors, Vice Presidents and those moving soon into the C-officer roles across our community are increasingly looked upon to lead the next strategy, plan and adoption level for digital health, health informatics and at the centre, for better health for Canadians. Their passion and commitment is clearly evident and provides the promise of success ahead.

Our 40,000 strong HI profession, partnering with several hundred thousand clinicians in the care of the health of millions of Canadians, are passionately building on the service and work of four decades and COACH has been there, continually advancing as the valued, vital and respected association for HI in Canada. Let’s celebrate that!

As I step down this spring from my work as CEO of COACH, I can look back at the challenges, changes, successes and difficulties of over three decades of service, hard work and passion for what we now call digital health. In all that, I am extremely proud to be a member of our HI community and of all we have accomplished together.

Most of all, I’m so very thankful for the cherished friendships and connections with everyone I’ve met and worked with in those years. You have given me such an awesome lifetime career that I couldn’t have imagined as fresh university grad in ’75. And you will have great success in your careers and continue to shape our beloved COACH into the next decade. I will miss you, but we will connect yet again in spirit and in whatever my future holds.

In the meantime, raise a toast with me to all of us and to COACH’s 40th anniversary!

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