Guerra On Healthcare: What Gordon Ramsay Can Teach CIOs

Wisdom that applies in the restaurant business is also crucial in navigating the road to meaningful use.

Anthony Guerra, Contributor

October 4, 2010

3 Min Read

From "Jersey Shore" to "The Bad Girls' Club," my wife keeps me on the cutting edge of American culture. And while I think there's little insight to be gained from those particular shows, reality TV does offer more food for thought than one might think.

I was reminded of this during an interview with Ministry Health Care & Affinity Health System CIO Will Weider, who noted one need not focus solely on traditional sources of knowledge -- webinars, conferences, and other continuing education events -- to pick up tips. Specifically, Weider said he's learned valuable lessons from "Tabitha's Salon Takeover."

This "confession" has given me the courage to reveal a secret of my own -- I've learned a lot from Gordon Ramsey's reality shows. If you're not familiar with Ramsey, he's the tough-talking, in-your-face celebrity chief who hosts such shows as "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen." Though there is overlap, each series holds a valuable key to success.

In "Kitchen Nightmares," Ramsey visits tanking restaurants. In almost all cases, he encounters the same problems -- a filthy kitchen and dining room, unprofessional servers, too diverse a menu, poor quality ingredients, and, most importantly, an owner who lacks the will to make the necessary changes. Underpinning these problems are two, even more fundamental issues: an attempt to be good at too many things and a lack of standards in doing anything. The takeaway is simple -- specialize in a very limited area and maintain extremely high standards.

In "Hell's Kitchen," Ramsey takes a handful of wannabe chefs and puts them through the ringer in challenges that test their cooking skills and ability to handle stress. Inevitably, what infuriates him most is cutting corners -- such as sending out an underdone filet mignon to catch up with late orders. Ramsey sees the slightest slip in standards as the beginning of the end, for the chef in question, for the restaurant, and (perhaps on some deep psychological level) for his career. The best way to stop a slide, he reasons, is never to let it start -- if you insist on always doing it right, you'll never falter.

One can apply these lessons to any business, in fact, any endeavor in life.

On the road to meaningful use, you can apply these principles to analyzing the "menu" the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has offered up. Obviously, a sound guiding principle can be patient safety -- but not in the sense of improving it. In this case, let's think of patient safety as the desire not to negatively impact it by prematurely injecting electronic solutions before the proper groundwork has been laid, before the clinicians are ready, before the order sets are created. You do not have to make things better right away, but your primary goal must be to not make them worse.

To pick from the CMS menu, first look at your team, then your organization, and finally yourself. Leave to later stages items that will require staff augmentation, while forming a plan to plug those skill gaps over the next six months.

In your quest for meaningful use, Ramsey's principles will serve you well -- pick the areas of meaningful use your organization is currently best equipped to handle and knock them out of the ballpark with high and exacting standards. And don't forget to appreciate your people along the way. Ramsey is tough as nails and sometimes even makes people cry, but beneath the yelling is someone who actually cares about the success of those he hectors.

As you can see, Ramsey has influenced me, while Tabitha hit home with Weider. There are little nuggets of wisdom all around you. Keep your eyes and mind open to them. To reach meaningful use, no stone can be left unturned.

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 [email protected].

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