Government // Leadership
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3/25/2010
11:08 PM
Anthony Guerra
Anthony Guerra
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Guerra On Healthcare: Breaking Into Health IT Isn't Easy

You need to learn the language and gain people's trust to become an insider in this industry.

About a year ago, I received a call from someone looking to blog on the healthcare IT Web site I was running at the time. I had developed a robust blogosphere, which came to host over two dozen well known and respected thought-leaders with long tenures in the business.

Ken, as we'll call this individual, was looking to break into healthcare IT consulting after a long career in manufacturing. While work over there had dried up, healthcare IT--thanks to $20 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and HITECH Act largess--was on the verge of exploding. Ken asked if I would let him share some lessons learned in manufacturing with my healthcare IT readers.

When I told Ken he didn't quite fit my bill, he asked for my advice as to how he could gain a foothold in this burgeoning space.

I told him to go to school.

Not literally, in this case, but more in the sense of reading, studying, observing, talking, participating and building relationships. After Ken thanked me and hung up, I didn't expect to hear from, or about, him again.

But wouldn't you know it, Ken listened to what I said. In fact, for the next 12 months, Ken turned up in every online nook and cranny you can imagine. He was everywhere--all over Twitter and LinkedIn, posting comments on many industry blogs, learning the space and truly contributing to the discussions. As I watched Ken's knowledge grow, I also saw him being accepted by people I respected. He was being engaged by industry insiders and slowly became an insider.

Now, mind you, this didn't happen overnight. I would say it took about a year for Ken to truly become a part of the healthcare IT community. Perhaps that sounds clubby, but it's a fact. All industries, all communities have insiders and outsiders. More than most industries, healthcare insiders are wary of outsiders, of those who haven't spent their lives inside the four walls of a hospital. HITECH has increased this feeling exponentially, as many see newcomers as carpetbaggers, merely here to grab some HITECH money and hightail it back to their native industry.

Ken illustrates a few things. First, those wishing to break into healthcare benefit from accepting the insider/outsider dynamic instead of pretending it doesn't (or shouldn't) exist. Secondly, it shows that this initial mistrust can be overcome if tackled the right way. And that means putting in the time and effort to speak the language before you travel the country. But remember, we're not just talking about buzzwords here--insiders are ready for that shell game.

The bottom line is outsiders only become insiders when they truly understand the challenges being faced by the healthcare IT community. You can't fake it. So before you get that appointment with a key business target (or even key editor) make sure you're ready.

Ken took the time, learned the language and earned trust. Wouldn't you know it, I'm now publishing his blog posts, and they're damn good.

Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of healthsystemCIO.com, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at aguerra@healthsystemCIO.com.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on this year's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference. This report offers the best healthcare IT advice, insight, and analysis coming out of that conference. Download the report here (registration required).

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