Going Far, Together

June 2017

Robert JensenEarlier this month I was in Austin, TX, where I attended my first AAMI Annual Conference & Expo. It was an inspiring, informative, and record-breaking gathering of committed leaders who came together to help chart the future of healthcare technology and its management.

As I moved from meeting to meeting, talked with attendees, and listened to smart presentations, a key component of AAMI’s DNA soon became very clear: We have the unique and unrivaled ability to bring together people from different disciplines and professional backgrounds to tackle some of today's most pressing challenges in healthcare technology and find solutions. And that’s even true when we’re talking about individuals and companies who typically engage as competitors.

Let me explain by describing one morning meeting in Austin. The attendees were all executives from one segment of the healthcare technology industry. Each individual had specific needs and priorities, but they all shared a set of common industry challenges and concerns. As with many of these sorts of meetings between competing companies, the beginning of the meeting was a little bit tense. One high-level attendee—letting just a little frustration peek through—finally said something like, Yes, we’re all competitors, but some of the areas where we can share best practices and other solutions are not what we compete on; they’re concerns for our whole industry.” He was right, we all took notice, and the stage was set for a productive discussion. As the old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

And that mindset is true for the entire AAMI community—not just one industry segment. Our standards program is a testament to the ability of competitors from the medical device world to sit down and work together—all in the name of supporting innovation and advancing patient safety.

On the healthcare technology management (HTM) front, we see the value of HTM professionals building bridges with other departments, whether information technology, facilities, or nursing. Much like medical devices themselves, the players in healthcare today are all interconnected. What any one person or department does has implications for the entire healthcare ecosystem.

Returning to that meeting in Austin, the underlying issue was how to achieve meaningful and helpful transparency about challenges and solutions among business competitors in the healthcare environment. Of course, companies have a stake in ensuring their intellectual property is protected, and the health sector at large has an interest in ensuring the environment remains competitive. Competition can foster innovation and creativity, and we never want to lose that.

It’s a question of striking the right balance, and keeping your eyes on the long-term goal.

From an engineer's perspective, these issues around transparency and trying to find that common ground can be thought of in the context of the speed of light. In the absence of any interference in a vacuum, light travels at about 186,000 miles per second. But the healthcare technology industry does not exist in a vacuum because there needs to be competition. To have a competitive environment, there will be some filters, whether intellectual property, state-of-the-art manufacturing, or advanced processes.

Perhaps water could be a model for us when it comes to transparency, which would get us to about 140,000 miles in a second. Or, if we needed more opaqueness to cover the necessary business filters, it could be glass at 124,000 miles per second. But the risk is allowing ourselves to have the rigidity of a diamond (which is about 55% more opaque than water), which lowers our speed to 77,500 miles per second. As you can see, since distance is relative to speed, our choices around transparency will decide both how fast and far we can go.

This comparison undoubtedly feels a bit geeky. But my point is that it benefits all of us to be more transparent. We can compete on those points that mark us as competitors, but still work together and share openly to address the challenges that we all have.

The rapidly changing landscape we find ourselves in also requires more fluidity and dexterity from all of us. With that, we all need to make a renewed commitment to forging new partnerships, breaking down walls, finding that common ground—even when we’re competing—and developing solutions that will support innovation, efficiency, and patient safety.

I’m working here at AAMI to improve our own agility to respond to the increasingly faster-developing healthcare environment. I heard from a lot of you at our conference about what we should do, and I hope we can continue that dialogue. I welcome your comments and feedback; you can reach me at rjensen@aami.org.

I invite you all to join me and each other in going fast and far, together.

Best Regards,

Robert Jensen

Robert D. Jensen
AAMI President & CEO