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Why hospital IT managers are a block for innovation

We all have this image in our head of an IT guy who surrounds himself with technology, obsessively try out every new gadget, and keep mentioning all kinds of weird acronyms that distance him from society.

When I sat the other day in front of the IT manager of a big hospital while he was chewing a gum, I can't help thinking how far is that image of the IT guy from the person who was sitting in front of me. 

In contrast to that image in our head the IT manager main concern is keeping the lights on. An IT manager who experienced an unscheduled downtime in one of the hospital mission critical systems, like many of them did, surely got his priorities straight after that event. The worst nightmare of an IT manager is to stand first thing in the morning in front of the CEO and to explain why the hospital network was hacked during the night. With such heavy responsibility laying on their heads innovation does not even get into the top three in their priority list.

That is all completely fine and understood. What is problematic however is that often the IT department get to be in charge of innovation just because innovative products tend to deal with technology, and the IT manager is the first stop to "pass" for introducing new technology to the hospital.

For the IT manager an innovative product is another product that he will have to maintain. His incentive plan does not include rewards for introducing new technologies and so as most people he will not be keen on taking additional work without a reward. Innovative products tend to use cutting edge infrastructure which requires the IT to get their heads around and learn how to maintain, in paradox the less innovative the product is the better it is for the IT department.

That misconception between the two images is what leads all hospital workers, from clinicians to executives, to turn to the IT manager when being introduced to an innovative product. Hospital IT managers usually do not have the skills to fully grasp the value of the systems they are asked to evaluate, and so as a result they tend to shift the discussion to subjects from their domain, like security, privacy, redundancy, authentication, interoperability, compliance, and other boring stuff that the hi-tech industry has found many ways to solve.
Too often the voice of the IT manager is too vocal in the conversation and clinicians and even C-level executives are reluctant to confront his or her opinion. 

A healthy organization must know to balance all voices and reward the individuals who prompt innovation and progress. Skepticism should be challenged and lack of motivation to take additional responsibilities is not a quality to be proud of.

But if you want a more practical advice it is this: instead of being the first, keep the IT manager the last person you consult with about introducing innovation. After all, you can't let the zoo keeper lead a herd of running horses...


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