Change is inevitable.  We all know that but it is amazing how many people dig in their heels when presented with the possibility.

Many years ago, in the mid-1980s to be more precise,  I was a senior executive for Hermann Affiliated Hospital Systems, a network of more than 40  community hospitals in Texas and Louisiana.  Some — 25 — were managed and the balance participated in shared services.  One part of our mission was to provide education to our members, from board seminars to programs about the future of healthcare.

In the early 1980s we invited a couple of senior executives from Owens & Minor, one of Hermann’s primary vendors of medical supplies, to make a presentation to 20 or 30 of our affiliated hospital CEOs.  We also invited some members of the senior leadership team at the flagship hospital to join the session which was held in conjunction with the Texas Hospital Association.  The Owens & Minor presentation was a blend of information regarding new technology about to be introduced, as well as some futuristic projections.  It was an excellent session — with great give and take — until they got around to the futuristic presentations.  That is when the train left the rails.

The Vice President of marketing — his name today escapes me — began to talk about some futuristic innovations they believed would transform the current supply chain management/charge capture system and, by the way, could enhance patient safety.  As the Owens & Minor executives began to outline their vision, the pushback was almost immediate.  This rejection of their ideas did not come from the rural hospital CEOs — maybe they were just being polite — but rather from the big city executives from our flagship/sponsoring hospital who apparently thought they knew better.  

What futuristic change drew such consternation from the know-it-alls? The Owens & Minor executives were predicting that hospitals would begin using special scanners and computer code strips to captures charges, manage inventory and protect patients.

No way, our knowledgeable big city hospital leaders exclaimed.  What are you guys smoking?  This is the silliest idea we have ever heard of.  What futuristic technology sparked this uproar?  Computer scanners and bar codes. That will never happen!.  Yeah, right.

Last week I had a routine outpatient diagnostic procedure — some people call it “THE Procedure.”  Throughout the process, nurses and other care givers scanned the bar code on my wrist band to be sure that I was the right person to suffer the indignity that was about to come, and that I was getting the right drugs.  On this day in 2018, scanning a bar code was just part of their everyday routine.  

Why would anyone be threatened by a bar code and computer scanner?

Today  in healthcare we are looking at extraordinary new technologies as well as potential new business models that many of us thought would ever happen. But change today seems to be moving at a pretty rapid clip.

  As industry giants Amazon and Wal-Mart ponder getting into the healthcare business by acquiring primary care practices and insurance companies, this unlikely change could be transformational.  These giants of business believe they can strip out much of the overhead bureaucracy that adds so much cost to our current business model.  They believe, apparently they can do it better for less. There are more than a few hospital executives digging in their heels.  

Before you stake too much of your career capital on ridiculing this kind of change that seems so improbable today, take pause and think:  bar codes.


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