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Five Things I Didn't Know about Healthcare Technology

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, April 20, 2010

In the 2009 film Confessions of a Shopaholic, the main character gets a job at a financial publication and finds herself in over her shoe-obsessed head. Her new boss comes up behind her as she sits at her computer.

"Did you just Google 'Finance?'" he asks her. "Yes," she admits. "I Googled."

Well, I have a confession of my own to make. Since I started covering healthcare technology, I've entered phrases beginning with the words "what is" into search boxes dozens of times.

I've never searched "What is healthcare technology?" But I have typed "What is cloud computing?" "Why are the first and last letters of SaaS capitalized when the other two are lower case?" and "Is there a difference between an electronic health record and an electronic medical record?"

I mentioned Web 2.0 in an e-mail to my editor a few weeks back and he responded with what seems like the obvious follow-up question: "What is Web 3.0?" That was convenient—all I had to do was cut and paste his question into the search box, hit return, and send him the answer as if I'd known it all along.

More recently, I searched "Can I download Apple applications to run on my computer?" Stop laughing. I was just curious if there was a way that I could test and review healthcare apps even though I don't own an iPhone. (OK, now stop laughing at the fact that I don't own an iPhone.)

I'm not embarrassed to say that I've had to ask these (and many more) questions not only over the past few months, but also throughout the course of my career. The truth is you'll never even know all of the things you don't know. But that's what makes it so much fun to be a reporter—you don't just learn one new thing every day—you learn several.

For example, now I know:

  • That cloud computing is a virtual server farm, except when it is something else. If Google were a "Magic Eight-Ball," the answer would have been "Reply hazy, try again."
  • That there is no discernable rhyme or reason to either of the two capital S's in the acronym for software as a service. And yes, to write that sentence I had to Google "What is the plural of the letter S?"
  • That there is a difference between an EHR and an EMR and that the damn press usually gets it wrong by using them interchangeably. I promise I will memorize the definitions in the HIMSS whitepaper, "Electronic Medical Records vs. Electronic Health Records: Yes, There Is a Difference," a title that, not surprisingly, came up very high in my search results.
  • That you, in fact, can not download apps onto your computer and, further, judging from the vitriol that the subject elicits when raised on tech message boards like this one, I might as well have queried "What is technology?" Or "What is an iPhone app?"
  • And that no one knows what Web 3.0 is yet except that it will be cooler than Web 2.0.

When I first started out in journalism, I saw a cartoon that has always stuck with me, even though I've long since lost the clipping: It depicted two scruffy-looking men wearing fedoras and throwing darts at a bulletin board that was covered with rectangles of paper. Each piece of paper had a word written on it: "economics," "education," "politics," "business," "healthcare," and (let's just say) "healthcare technology," for example. And above the board there was a sign that said "Today I am an expert in . . ."

The caption read: "How reporters start their day."

I can totally relate.


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