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‘Toddy I Sit When I Potty’ is Now CTO of Nation, Or Why Sometimes You Have to Sit to Stand for Change

by Jonathan Bush, President & CEO

If you’ve ever seen Todd Park speak in public—or in the YouTube version—it will be no mystery to you why last week he was appointed to be the Chief Technology Officer for the United States. Not only is he brilliant, but he’s an adopter of technology and an effective evangelist for it.

We go way back—we founded athenahealth together in 1997—and I have an anecdote that should explain what I mean.

Todd Park’s first experimental use of technology at athenahealth was with a new mass voicemail module of the phone system at “The BirthPlace” the birthing clinic we opened in San Diego and what was the precursor to athenahealth. It was a beautiful and innocent time in the early life of this company. A time when we first imagined that we could change health care…and when we thought we could “own” a medical group.

The voicemail went something like this:

“This is Todd Park on a pan-athena voicemail broadcast regarding a new policy for the use of shared toilets. It has come to my attention that there may be ‘spillage’ occurring when the executive potty is used by those who prefer to stand when using the bathroom. From now on, all employees, regardless of gender, must sit when using the shared bathroom. I know that this will feel unnatural to some of you but I want you to know that I have begun trying this myself before making this policy and I actually find it rather a nice experience.”

He has come so far…by basically doing the same thing. He identified the problem, found the solution (by the simple act of sitting) and then used technology to evangelize the solution and get others to adopt. This is also what he did with the athenaCollector medical billing service. It needed to perform for clients in a way that was simply not possible. One couldn’t pay that much attention to small claim minutiae and make money.

But he did…he pushed and pushed until the engine got smart enough to both deliver for clients and make money. Then, without missing a beat, he stepped out from behind his practice manager curtain and became athenaCollector’s greatest evangelist.

He did the same things with athenaClinicals. He made an electronic health record (EHR) service that reads the client’s faxes for them and thus did valuable work…at a loss. Then he made it work and again he became its greatest evangelist. As the CTO at Health & Human Services, he did the same thing AGAIN by setting the data free with health.data.gov. Soon enough, this gift for technology evangelism was noticed by a wider audience.

No one I have ever met is better at taking the technology and the people one finds in life and combining them in ways that no one thinks possible, succeeding at it himself and then evangelizing for adoption. There are great inventors in the world capable of being quiet and alone for hours, typing and tweaking without need for human encouragement. The world needs these people. There are also inspired evangelists capable of facing enormous crowds of doubters without fear and using humor, brilliance, and passion to convert them. Todd is both.

I mourn every day that the private sector misses his talents. But the government is one lucky mofo to have him…. And you’re darn right they made him CTO!

Jonathan Bush is the President and CEO of athenahealth.

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