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Climbing the Meaningful Use Mountain

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, May 8, 2012

Not long before I joined HealthLeaders, I found myself engrossed in a subject that involved technology and medicine, but took place far from the operating room.

The subject was mountain climbing. And the parallels to health system leadership are many. I'll explain. Scaling one of the world's tallest peaks remains an expensive endeavor. Not all calamities can be foreseen. Risks are high. Public exposure is great. (These days, many mountaineers tweet their way to the top.)

In each endeavor, technology continues to make great strides, but often requires a leap of faith, and months, if not years, of preparation. And yet, the best expeditions are guided by seasoned veterans who've often learned the hard way, through failure.

In healthcare, as in mountain climbing, there is great pressure and prestige in being first. But what's playing out now in healthcare technology is, in part, the downside of being first. In mountaineering, trying to get to the top first, you can end up like George Mallory did in 1922: dying somewhere short of the summit.

In healthcare, those who rushed into a hodgepodge of electronic medical record technology a few years back are now, sometimes, paying a bitter price. They may have realized incremental savings on this or that subsystem, but these systems may not talk to each other, and have no easy way to be upgraded to do so.

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