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Females, CIOs Need Not Apply

Gary Baldwin, for HealthLeaders News, October 30, 2007

"The HIMSS08 keynote lineup speaks for itself," shouts a recent e-mail I got from the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Intended to promote the industry's largest IT event, this claim may, instead, win the annual award for unintentional irony.

Let's see, we've got multi-millionaire Bill Frist, the U.S. senator from Tennessee and former shareholder of Hospital Corporation of America, the source of his wealth. He also used to practice medicine, so I guess he might have something to say about EMRs--or maybe telemedicine. After watching a home-made video of the late Terry Schiavo, the Florida woman who existed in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, Frist famously diagnosed her from the Senate floor.

Then we've got Mike Leavitt, the head of HHS, and Robert Kolodner, the national coordinator for health information technology, whom other writers--not me--persist in calling "Healthcare IT Czar.

"Moving on, we see Steve Case, the well-heeled AOL founder who has launched Revolution Health, and Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. HIMSS refers to him as "Dr." Schmidt. He's just not a Bill Frist kind of doctor. By that I mean, he has a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science. He may not diagnose you from across the country, but he might be able to fix your hospital's information system--or maybe buy you a new one.

Forbes ranked Schmidt as the 48th richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $6.5 billion.Rounding out the keynote list is Chicago's own Steven Levitt. He's a PhD too, but his is in economics.

That may explain why HIMSS did not call him "Dr. Levitt." But the University of Chicago economist has interesting things to say about healthcare, most prominently his claim that legalized abortion resulted in fewer unwanted children, and hence fewer potential criminals, thus leading to a drop in crime. Perhaps he and the pro-life Dr. Frist will swap ideas in the speaker's lounge.

If my math is correct, the list adds up to three federal government employees, two corporate executives from software companies, and one professor. In sum, the healthcare industry's most prominent IT member association has pinned its star on a group of six white male speakers, several multi-millionaires among them. That's bad enough, considering how financially beleaguered this industry is. Worse, none of these speakers works in a hospital or medical group, let alone in a CIO role.

Maybe with a little effort, HIMSS could have found a more diverse panel with direct industry experience. Women may not dominate the CIO suite, but you do not have to look too far to find hospitals or medical groups with females playing vitally important IT leadership roles.

And if HIMSS insists on having software vendor executives go front and center, at least pick one from a company with an industry track record, like a Cerner, or a McKesson, or an Allscripts. But my hunch is, CIOs and other HIMSS attendees don't want to hear keynotes from software vendor executives anyway. More than one went away grumbling last year that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote was an infomercial, albeit a flashy one.

To be fair, the event lasts several days and will include dozens of speakers. I'm sure that there will be some compelling presentations from hospital and medical group executives about health systems tackling their problems with IT. They just may not be given in a gigantic auditorium with teleprompters and video displays and touted as the main reason for attending.


Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at gbaldwin@healthleadersmedia.com.