Ken Maddock: With Communications Technology, Sometimes You’ve Got to Use It—and Sometimes You’ve Got to Lose It

Even though I am much closer to the end of my career than the beginning, I am a huge proponent of using technology. I don’t pretend to be as adept with new technology, such as apps, as the 20-somethings, but I do believe it makes sense to use it to maximize personal and work productivity.

That’s why it drives me crazy when I get to a meeting and the first thing the leader says is to turn off your cellphones so you will pay attention. My first suggestion, and always unspoken (my mama didn’t raise no fool), is to make your meeting interesting so that people pay attention! Second, I would like to ask whether you believe in productivity. Because the reality is that it is not necessary for everyone at a meeting to be 100% engaged 100% of the time. Why not let them get something done while they are at the meeting? Of course, the trick is to know when you must be engaged and when you can afford to mentally step out for a minute.

I also rebel when people suggest that people use e-mail too much. E-mail is a tool. It was invented to increase productivity, not decrease it. Yes, like any tool it can be misused. But the focus when a new tool comes along should be how to most effectively use it, not balk against using it because you can’t figure that out.

With that being said, I have to admit that there is a time when you have to toss technology aside. When you are addressing sensitive issues, the best thing to do is to get in the same room. It is way too easy with today’s technology to toss vicious, verbal grenades at those with whom you disagree. Often you don’t even know the people you are criticizing. You don’t know what drives them, what they believe in. Heck, you could even be friends if you met them. But no, stay locked up in your fortress, and keep throwing your Twitter bombs, e-mail Molotov cocktails, and your chat missiles. It doesn’t accomplish anything productive, but it makes you feel bigger and you don’t think you can get hurt that way.

But I believe in getting things done. And sometimes you have to go old school to do that. Improving the supportability of medical equipment has been a hot topic for years, with the healthcare technology management (HTM) community constantly expressing its anger and frustration with the “price gouging” manufacturers. Well, a group of HTM professionals, manufacturers, and other stakeholders put on their Kevlar vests and flak helmets and went into a meeting this week at AAMI headquarters intending to develop a plan to improve equipment supportability. Many were expecting the worst. Guess what? The worst didn’t happen. The meeting was passionate, but respectful and productive. Why? Because people weren’t sitting behind their “firewall” shooting through peepholes at an unseen enemy. They were sitting face to face with real people, realizing that they had a common enemy to attack: runaway healthcare costs.

So my advice is to take advantage of technology. Use it properly to increase productivity. But don’t misuse it to stand in for real, human interaction when that is what is needed. All right, I need to go. I have to respond to a tweet.

Ken Maddock, a longtime healthcare technology executive, is a member of the AAMI Board of Directors.

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