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doctor showing patient information on a tablet

by Beth L. Martel
Published on November 25, 2019

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to share my gratitude for my colleagues in health care IT. I’ve been in this industry for nearly 20 years and I’ve always said the reason I come to work is for the patients. But with no clinical or bedside experience, I didn’t really know what that meant. It felt like a cliché or the expected response when someone asked why I did my job. Of course, the mission to help people when they’re at their most vulnerable is honorable, but let’s face it, in IT, we’re usually on the receiving end of a frustrated phone call or email. We don’t often get up close and personal with the patients or see what effect we have on them.

I think it’s easy to forget how important the work really is when it’s often behind the scenes. That’s why I want to share what I learned this year about the impact health care IT professionals have on the patient experience.

IT is transforming the patient health care journey

I’ve spent my life avoiding being a patient. Instead, I favored alternative types of care like acupuncture and food as medicine. I eat right and exercise. I don’t smoke, only drink socially and, in general, manage stress pretty well. In fact, I used to think that paying for health insurance was a waste of money for me!

Well, on May 1, 2019, that changed when I became a patient at Keck Medicine at the University of Southern California.

After a routine mammogram, followed by a biopsy, I was diagnosed with breast cancer that metastasized to a lymph node. I had surgery June 19 and started chemo Aug. 16. 

By the end of the year, I’ll finish three more rounds of chemo, followed by 30 rounds of radiation. While this isn’t something I’m looking forward to, I’ve come to realize that I actually received an amazing gift.

I know describing multiple rounds of chemo as a “gift” sounds extreme. But I really mean it because two things happened during the span of 90 days. First, I realized what the author and speaker Richard Carlson meant when he said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.” There really isn’t anything like a cancer diagnosis to shake you up and make you think about what’s important.

Second, I saw firsthand how important IT is to the health care journey for patients. Every aspect of my care is possible because of breakthroughs in technology and innovation. Sure, my physicians are brilliant, but they wouldn’t have access to any of the information they need without IT.

I’m grateful that this diagnosis happened now and not 20 years earlier when my care would have been fractured and reliant on faxes and phone calls. On every step of my journey, I can see how the work of IT leaders makes it easier for me to receive treatment and heal and for clinicians to provide me with the best possible care. For example:

  • When I use an iPad to quickly check-in at the clinic and don’t have to stand in line
  • When the medical assistant swipes their badge before taking my vitals
  • When the clinic scheduler pulls up my information in the electronic health record and collects the necessary co-pay
  • When the radiologist has the images he needs because the network, servers, hardware and software are seamlessly connected
  • When the surgeon can connect with the pathologist to ensure all cancer is removed
  • When the nurse swipes their badge to document my meds in the middle of the night and knows how to re-label my drains in the EHR
  • When the oncologist responds to my weekend emails about the side effects of the chemo
  • When the care manager from my health insurance calls me to see how I’m doing

None of this happens without the work of IT. So, whether you’re a health care IT professional taking a phone call, installing a desktop, on-boarding a new hire, processing an invoice or purchase order, completing benchmarking surveys or applying patches in the middle of the night, remember that everything you’re doing is transforming health care and helping people like me heal.

I know our work can feel thankless when you’re dealing with frustrated clinicians and staff. But our work matters. Whether it’s behind the scenes or out in front, I’m grateful this Thanksgiving, and every day, that my cancer care at Keck is backed by a team of amazing health care IT professionals.

Cerner works at the intersection of health care and IT to connect people and systems around the world. Learn more here.