We talked! We learned! We gambled! For three days last week, some 545 athenahealth clients gathered in Boston for our annual User Conference. We packed each day full of sessions on how client practices can make the most of the EHR, practice management and patient communication services we provide. When we weren’t pumping them full of strong coffee, we had clients on the edges of their seats with the excitement of ANSI 5010 and ICD-10, Patient Centered Medical Home and Meaningful Use. Client executives learned lessons in leadership and how best to leverage our cloud-based services. Several fun evening events, like the wildly popular Casino Night, provided time for networking among clients. We also got a lot of feedback about how we can improve our products, services and support. And for our CEO, Jonathan Bush, attending the User Conference meant getting and giving hundreds of hugs, which he will explain in an upcoming post.
But all the teaching and learning and interaction was kicked off on Tuesday morning by a moving and insightful speech by Dr. Atul Gawande. A surgeon and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, he’s also a bestselling author and frequent contributor to The New Yorker magazine. He framed his remarks by stating that “medicine is the art of mastering extreme complexity,” and told the incredible story of a 3-year-old girl who nearly drowned in Austria. After being pulled from the water she went without oxygen for two hours but was eventually revived and over time, recovered to be 100% normal. Saving her took tiny steps, several players and steady teamwork. It was an example of the huge complexity of many, many details faced by medical providers. An individual doctor could not have done it alone.
Dr. Gawande went on to talk about how—like saving the Austrian girl—we know now that the best care happens when it comes from a system, coordinated and integrated, where disparate activities work in concert. For a system to work well he said there are four requirements:
- An ability/visibility to recognize and measure failure
- An ability to devise solutions and make progress with checklist
- An ability to implement checklists successfully
- An ability to choose your battles carefully
Dr. Gawande is a big believer in checklists, so much so that he wrote about them in his most recent New York Times bestselling book, The Checklist Manifesto. In it he explains the necessity for checklists in fields like aviation and medicine, despite the difficulty to implement them. He left the audience at the User Conference with three core values that are critical to success and critical to success with checklists: humility, discipline and teamwork. We’ll provide more of Gawande’s presentation in upcoming posts. In the meantime, watch for Jonathan Bush’s upcoming take on the User Conference. For all who attended, thank you. If you are not a client but want to attend next year..become a client so you can!