The Power of Process and the Future of Health IT

[I'm reposted this from my blog post by the same name on HIMSS Future Care.]

I’ve read that 500 words is the optimal length for a blog post (Search Engine Optimization? Least Publishable Unit? Human attention span?) Easy! I’ve written lots of 5,000 word blog posts. All I have to do is multiply by 120 percent and divide by 12! (And I’m already 20 percent there.) [Hmm. I think someone may have edited this post, because this first paragraph surely can't be 20 percent of it!]

A bit more about The Power of Process, the title of my entire monthly blog series… If you look up the definition and synonyms for “powerful” you find “mighty”, “strong”, and “energetic.” I hope I can live up to those wonderful words. But I think you’ll find even more interesting the words associated with “powerful”: effective, efficient, fast, connected, and secure. Wow! You can’t get more relevant to today’s health IT headlines and issues that those adjectives.

Let’s get with it, this, my first blog post on Future Care…

Health IT is like China in the 90s, where I used to visit. China was (and obviously still is) big, insulated from rest of the IT world, but also opening up to it. Healthcare, also, is big, historically insulated, but becoming less so.


What are the technologies spreading into health IT? I’ll focus on the following six [represented above, on my Twitter profile], because, while each is a platform, of sorts, they are coming together to create a meta-platform, a platform of platforms.

  • Social Tech
  • Mobile Tech
  • Analytics Tech (including “Big Data”)
  • Cloud Tech
  • Workflow Tech
  • Language Tech

The technologies, like weather, respect no borders. They blow where they will. They are transforming every industry; healthcare and health IT are not immune.

The first four technologies even have an acronym: SMAC. Think of it as an adverb, as in the abruptness of “I ran smack into the future!” To SMAC I add W and L for workflow and language tech. Sometimes I even use the #SMACWL hashtag (rhymes with “spackle” or “grackle”, if you’ve heard of those).

If you’ve read me before, you know I blog (200+ posts) and tweet (20,000 tweets) about workflow. And the great thing about workflow is that I can pivot anywhere from it. Workflow is a series of steps, consuming resources, achieving a goal. Workflow is everywhere. That is why process-aware technology (that’s what academics call workflow technology) is so profound but also hard to understand and appreciate.

All of the other techs – social, mobile, analytics, cloud, and language – increasingly rely on workflow technology to manage interactions among software systems and with human users. As they infiltrate, diffuse, and “infect” healthcare, they are vectors carrying into healthcare sophisticated workflow technologies.

How important is workflow to the future of health IT and transforming healthcare? It is the glue, the context, the coordinating substrate for combining all of the other technologies we see every day in the headlines.

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