Guerra On Healthcare: CIO's Guide To Avoiding Burnout - InformationWeek
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Anthony Guerra
Anthony Guerra

Guerra On Healthcare: CIO's Guide To Avoiding Burnout

How to maintain your health, your sanity, and your career under the pressure of meeting "Meaningful Use" regulations.

There has never been as much pressure on healthcare CIOs as today. The release of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' final Meaningful Use regulations has started the countdown -- if it hadn't already started -- toward deadlines that will either bring millions into an organization or see it stalled on the roadside as competitors whiz by with much-needed cash. And like it or not, many a CIO's job is on the line to bring home to government bacon.

With requirements that will tap every CIO's abilities, along with their financial and HR resources, the stage is set for heavy turnover (even before the deadlines), high burnout rates, and health problems. As everyone knows, stress is an indirect killer -- it leads to all sorts of fun stuff like high blood pressure, which then leads to stroke, heart attacks, and the like. I do not think I'm in any way overstating the case for what healthcare CIOs will experience over the next five years.

But I also guarantee you'll see seemingly paradoxical behavior from the best of the best, and that behavior is something you can emulate. Those with the most responsibility, the most pressure, the most on the line, will be the ones who take the most time off. Have you ever received an "out of the office" reply from a high level executive saying he'd be out of the country on vacation for over a week with no e-mail access? I have.

Those are the kinds of breaks that only two types of individuals take -- those who have checked out (about to resign) and those who care enough about themselves, their families, and their organizations to know that a car without gas can't take its passengers very far.

For example, I recently interviewed Deane Morrison, CIO at Concord Hospital in New Hampshire. He doesn't leverage the usual stress relievers I've come across like biking, running, and hiking. He takes things up a notch -- sometimes a very, very big one. Morrison climbs mountains to take the edge off. Climbing up mountains, ironically, "grounds" him, putting everything in perspective. Teetering on the brink of death helps remind him that a delayed go-live isn't the end of the world -- probably because falling off a mountain would be.

While I'm not saying you must court death to live life well, I am saying you must properly balance your life (among work, family, friends, and self) if you are to find success in any of those realms. "Leaving it all on the field," as they say in sports, isn't a good option for the healthcare IT professional. Because if you've left it all on the field, you're not bringing anything home. And if that's the case, eventually you'll find the house empty. What's more, if you're leaving it all at work and with the family, you're not saving anything for yourself.

You deserve to have something left in the tank when everyone else has had their fill. Anything less is unsustainable. Remember, life -- including the quest for Meaningful Use -- is a marathon, not a sprint. If you don't stop for sustenance, your body will simply stop you.

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

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