The Soul of COACH

As I embark on my two-year term as President of COACH and in light of the upcoming 40th anniversary of COACH, I thought it appropriate to offer commentary and thanks to the members that make this association an effective national voice for health informatics (HI) in Canada. I particularly want to focus in on the member participation, engagement and robust volunteerism that permeates virtually every activity and initiative that COACH undertakes.

During my early days in this industry (mid 1980s, no laughter please), meaningful participation in this or any national organization had many barriers, not the least of which was the vast geography of this country. This was long before the introduction of cost-effective modalities such as teleconferences, videoconferencing and webinars that have been made economically feasible through the leveraging of the Internet. In the past, the only opportunity to meet and fully discuss issues with a variety of one’s peers was annually at the national e-Health Conference (then called the COACH Conference), or when conducting site visits associated with the procurement process. Outside of the periodic previously arranged, expensive long-distance call, that was it.
The times have certainly changed.

With the assistance of mature low cost communications modalities, COACH has more than ever become the “glue” for the national HI community and, with it, an important influence on continuous efforts at improving the healthcare system in Canada on many levels.

The strength of COACH ultimately lies in its membership and the heart and soul of COACH is the meaningful engagement that occurs with and between members as we share our experiences and knowledge. To that end, maintaining and growing membership and associated engagement is an overriding theme and primary focus of the 2014-17 Strategic Plan and a major goal for this coming year. Broadening the membership to include more clinicians and other key health system participants will also support this goal and strengthen the value that the association provides to members and the health system as a whole.

Virtual & In-Person Engagement

A major purpose of associations is to provide members the opportunity to engage with a variety of individuals with sometimes divergent views, but ultimately with a similar purpose or interest. COACH accomplishes this through a multitude of engagement platforms both virtually and in-person. This engagement occurs at various networking events, educational symposiums and conferences that enable connections for a diverse public and private sector membership that includes, but is not limited to chief information officers, clinicians, telehealth specialists, information technology experts and emerging professionals from all areas associated with HI.

COACH strives to provide in-person engagement where possible at various locations around the country through participation in provincial symposiums and events such as eHealthAchieve, COACH-sponsored women leaders events and various forums such as the CHIEF: Canada’s Health Informatics Executive Forum. As I mentioned earlier, communications technologies have also enabled COACH to provide many virtual opportunities to meet, connect, and share using webinars to support the CTF: Canadian Telehealth Forum, CCF: COACH Clinician Forum, eHIP: Emerging HI Professionals Forum and CHIEF.

COACH also supports the overall agenda through the development and provision of professional practice guidelines in the areas of privacy and patient safety as well as through professional credentialing and the dissemination of industry leading information and insight found in this publication and in various white papers including EHR governance and EMR adoption.

There are many other engagement activities beyond those specifically listed in this article.

It is important to note, especially for those of you new to the COACH experience, that all of the aforementioned activities, services and products could not be accomplished without a huge base of volunteers to support them. Additionally, significant member participation is required if full value is to be obtained. Meaningful engagement is the most important asset of COACH and as an association we strive to reach out and provide opportunities wherever possible to our membership to provide their valuable time and expertise. COACH currently enjoys a member base of approximately 240 volunteers. That represents over 16 percent of general membership, a laudable statistic though not limited to that number.

I encourage members, new and longstanding, to participate in one or more of the many forums and member engagements that currently exist. This is typically where you will find not only value for your membership, but also see opportunities to volunteer and make COACH even stronger than it is today. The association was founded and built upon our members and continues to exist for the purpose of supporting the practices, knowledge, skills and information sharing of our members.

I thank those of you who have stepped up in the past and look forward to the coming year as we meet and engage others who will continue to push the agenda for improving the health system through effective use of HI.

I welcome reader feedback about this column and anything else related to COACH or health informatics at info@ or via Twitter at @COACH_HI.

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