A failure of leadership

My previous post got a few reactions from the IT people, all of them sounding as virgins having their panties pulled down. To say they didn’t like it is the understatement of the day. Which leads me to conclude I wasn’t clear enough. It also points to something being seriously wrong with their idea of their role, so let’s clarify that, too. I understand what brought us to this, namely “democracy in the workplace”, but if this is the price we have to pay for it, it’s too expensive by far. Nothing is worth this degree of dereliction of duty.

Healthcare in Sweden, as everywhere else, has one well-defined and unassailable goal and that is to make and keep the population as healty as possible, or some other variation of the Hippocratic oath. That’s what it’s for, nothing more, nothing less. The providers of this service are doctors, nurses, and other paramedicals. To support them in their work, we have IT staff, administrative staff, housekeeping, etc. There is no ambiguity in the roles or lines of authority here. Doctors at the top, nursing and paramedicals under them, except in certain areas of care where nursing and paramedicals work independently under their own authority. Nowhere is IT to be seen in this diagram, since IT staff have no authority of any kind in healthcare. They should have absolutely no say in how healthcare is provided or even with what means it is provided. Theirs is to do what we tell them to do as well as they can. But it seems they’ve lost track of this along the way.

In Sweden, the IT staff in many places has taken it upon themselves to decide what equipment and software doctors and nurses should use. It’s no wonder it has turned into a total disaster. These people have no idea what this stuff is supposed to be used for, they don’t have the training for it, and naturally, I pointed this out with my usual tact and finesse, resulting in the virginal yelps of affront. Amidst the whining, the best offer I got was that they’re willing to sit down on neutral territory for open discussions about what can be done. You must be kidding me!

Now get this, IT support people: you are support people. That means, you’re not to question how healthcare is to be done. You are not to question what we need in the form of IT to do our job. You have one task, and one task only, and that is to provide the medical staff with the best IT support you possibly can. If you’re not willing or able to do that, you shouldn’t be in this business.

Now get this, medical managers: you should never have let IT people misunderstand their role this badly. It’s up to you to clearly state the goals of the organizations and see to it that everyone in the organization understands and supports that goal and keep their noses pointed in the right direction. You’ve failed in that and now you have to fix it!

As things are now, the healthcare IT people behave as if they’re Santa Claus in disguise. If you get a working machine from them, they expect a big smile and a big thanks. And if you’re naughty, you’ll have to wait another year for your gift.

We doctors are also to blame. In our efforts to be nice to people, we have let them believe it’s ok to have to beg them for machines, and by implication, that they can reward us if we’re nice to them. These machines aren’t toys, they are the means we must have to perform our primary task, and that is, as you conveniently seem to have forgotten, taking care of patients. This situation could only arise due to a failure of leadership, and lack of a firm directives given to IT support departments. We’ve let them stray from their task, because we didn’t pay attention when we should have.

IT people, listen up now: your behaviour and your attitude, as I and most of my collegues have encountered it, is inexcusable. Don’t come to us telling us what we can or cannot do. Come to us only to ask what you can do to help improve healthcare, nothing else. And I’d strongly advise all healthcare staff to adopt the same attitude. We have a serious and dangerous attitude problem here, and it’s time IT support got a grip on reality and started supporting us instead of playing “Animal Farm” and keep sabotaging healthcare.

I’m sure there are well-meaning and capable people in healthcare IT support in our provinces, and I love you all. But please, make yourself heard and noticed, will you?

One thought on “A failure of leadership”

  1. Congratulations on this posting. You have very accurately described a situation far too many of us face. The various support groups (IT, Finance and HR are the main ones in my mind) are there to provide support to the business functions. That business function can be anything from healthcare to growing vegetables – that really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the business function is the reason the organization exists. The support groups are there for one reason only – to support the business function.

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