Health IT

The value of curmudgeons and why health systems and startups should engage them

pouting Overweight businessman folded armsIn a profession that is all about saving lives and selfless dedication, it’s odd to think of how many times I’ve heard would-be health IT disruptors (playfully) wish death or at least a speedy retirement upon those physicians resisting change when it comes to healthcare reform. If only those annoying people would shut up or get out of the way, they could get on with improving outcomes and saving lives seems to be the subtext of those sentiments. The feeling is probably mutual!

But anyone who wants to make changes from a hospital system to a scrappy startup would do well to bend the ear of a curmudgeon, be they a nurse, provider or health care professional affected by a proposed change or innovation they want to make. They may be surprised by the results.

Why? Because curmudgeons are more likely to express their opinion about whether a new system or initiative will or won’t work and why. If a new interface would interfere with workflows, for example, they will often be the first to speak up. They are frequently the toughest critics. You may not get showered with praise from them but if you engage them early on and make it clear their opinions are valued you may end up making your app, EHR, etc. much better than it might otherwise be.

Curmudgeons also figured into the broader issue of engaging providers that was the subject of a recent regional HIMSS event at University of Pennsylvania Health System.


Dr. John McGreevey III , assistant professor of Clinical Medicine and associate CMIO at Penn Medicine praised the power of curmudgeons as part of his talk, Provider Engagement in HIT: Benefits, Barriers, and Opportunities.

“Critics and curmudgeons are essential to the process of implementing a new project, he said. “They identify problems early, they challenge the process.” Also, they offset the cheerleaders, so they can create a nice balance for feedback on projects.

Ultimately, it is the critics that help make a project or new technology successful. So instead of wishing they would go away, we should be asking ourselves how we can get them more involved and keep them engaged.

[Overweight businessman standing with arms folded from BigStock photo]

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