Reflecting on My Career to Date and the Last Two Years as COACH President (With Assistance from Yogi Berra)

COACH represents the Canadian health informatics (HI) community, both public and private from coast to coast, and one of our biggest challenges is to form a degree of cohesion and alignment across a vast geographic landscape as well as across a very diverse professional community. I can emphatically state that even with all of the changes in Board of Directors membership I have experienced over the years, the Board continues to be committed to a national view of the health system and continues to be focused on engaging and broadening our constituency as well as our value proposition.

I recently came across some quotes from baseball legend Yogi Berra and was impressed at the wisdom that his witticisms and malapropisms imparted when applied to my experiences with COACH and the HI industry in general. As my two-year term as President and Board Chair of COACH draws to a close, please indulge me as we push Michael Porter (of Harvard Business School fame) aside and welcome a new guru.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
My entire career has been very rewarding in many ways and on many levels. My last two years as President of COACH, as well as my entire tenure on the Board, are consistent with my career experience. We all make choices throughout our lives on many things, but when I was approached years ago by associates to put myself forward as a candidate in the COACH Board election I cannot say I jumped at it. I was just hitting my stride as CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information Centre and our organization was on bust trying to realize electronic health record utopia for the people of the province. However, I am glad I did eventually enter the election and I strongly encourage and recommend that other members jump in the ring in the coming years. We need to continue Board development and provide a degree of continuity of thought.

“You can observe a lot by watching.”
I have had the privilege during my career of working alongside of or in proximity to some very talented individuals. I have also had many experiences dealing with the less enlightened. I learned early on that wisdom can be obtained by experiencing and examining both ends of the spectrum. Additionally, there are many lessons that can be learned by knowing what others have tried even if success was not ultimately achieved. Information technology is the poster child for this philosophy. At some point, concurrent action will be required but environmental observation is a key. COACH must continue to act as a conduit for observational learning for its members.

“It’s deja vu all over again.”
I first started my career in healthcare in 1983 as a research officer with Newfoundland’s Royal Commission on Hospital and Nursing Home Costs. (Labrador was not part of the provincial brand at that time.) The number one issue in healthcare was related to the unsustainable costs of delivery at the institutional level. Fast forward 33 years and the number one issue in healthcare is sustainability at virtually every level. Go figure. No doubt it is a time for changes.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
Make a plan, revise the plan, socialize the plan, then plan some more, review the plan, then make another plan. You get the picture. Project managers beware. I have learned that you always need to be in a position to modify direction to accommodate a rapidly changing environment while still maintaining project integrity. Though large scale infrastructure projects will always take a long time and need some inflexibility, it is important that resulting functionality be adaptable to meet changing demands and associated technologies. I would label this “sustainable interoperability.”

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
While there are many similarities between the early 1980s and the current health system, the vision for future healthcare delivery is blurry and uncertain. There will undoubtedly still be some of the bricks and mortar required for certain aspects of healthcare, but what will it really look like and what role will HI professionals have in this new construct? We are already seeing momentum towards more home-based, remote and patient-delivered diagnosis and healthcare tools. The old paradigm of healthcare still clings to the edge of the precipice, but its insatiable hunger for resources will eventually weigh it down and force it to let go. (Cue Wilhelm scream.) HI will drive the new construct as technologies, information management and sophisticated analytics take centre stage in a complex industry that needs to be much more efficient, effective and safe. And yes, more self-directed and managed.

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
This is probably one of the most quoted Yogi-isms on record. As I reflect on my past two years as COACH President and Board Chair, these words certainly ring true. In fact, I have been serving on the Board of COACH for the past six plus years and I still have two years left to serve in the role of Past President. As one colleague humourously quipped, I still have two years left to serve “on my sentence.” I have no regrets or second thoughts. I look forward to continuing to participate on the Board over the next two years and will continue to volunteer with COACH in some capacity after my time on the Board comes to an end. I will let my light-hearted colleague know, in due time, that my COACH involvement is probably a life sentence. ☺

In the meantime, cheers to you people and thanks for supporting me, the Board and the COACH staff over the last two years as we continue to transition COACH for the future.

Cheers,
Mike Barron

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