When I talk to people in our profession about their hospital based information technology programs, (IT) they start by telling me stories about how the IT people know nothing about patient care, or how they will not respond to problems as rapidly as BMETS. They never tell me about the things that their IT departments do well. As I listen to this kind of criticism, I recall a lesson I learned from reading Sam Walton’s biography called “Made in America”. In it he describes the techniques he used to make Wal-Mart the worlds largest retailer.
In the early days, when Walton had just a few stores, he asked his store managers to visit competitive stores in their areas to see how well they were operated. When the managers returned from visiting their competitors they would always criticize them by discussing the flaws in their operations. They focused on what he competition did poorly and enjoyed pointing out what Walton’s stores did better. Walton told his managers that he did not want them looking at what their competition did poorly. He told them; “Don’t look for the bad. Look for the good”. He stressed that they should look for the things their competitors did better and incorporate them into their own operations.
This was one of Walton’s great strengths; he was willing to learn from his competition. He didn’t just read about retailing; he became a student of his competitors. He advocated hanging out in competitive stores checking prices, merchandise, displays and parking. He always looked for ways to improve operations. It was clear to Walton, that the best way to improve business was to learn from the strongest and fastest competitor. Walton was determined to find out why his competitors were successful and he was always willing to incorporate someone else’s ideas.
Although your hospital’s IT department is not your competitor, they have been very successful in growing and adding to their responsibilities. They have gained respectability at all hospital levels. Some IT directors have been named Vice Presidents or Chief Technology Officers. Because of their success, it might be wise to use Sam Walton’s approach and rather than criticize what they do poorly, focus on the kinds of things that they do well. Ask yourself what you can learn from the way your IT department operates. One of the differences I have always noticed is that many biomedical departments emphasize that their primary role is to save their hospitals money by providing low cost repair services. Although most IT departments repair computers and peripherals, they do not emphasize repair as their primary role. They tend to view repair is an adjunct to their principal role which is to bring the latest information technology to their hospitals. By deemphasizing repair they are better able to represent themselves as technology leaders who are positioned to work with others to use information technology to make operations more efficient. Is there a lesson here that hospital based biomedical engineering programs can learn and emulate?
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