In the mid-1990s, I was working as the medical director for a national computer processing company that had the medical policy and utilization review contract for many Medicaid programs in the United States. Within the first few weeks of being hired, I was invited to attend an IT meeting where the computer project supervisor was going to show off a beta medical reporting program the company had developed for an outside customer. They thought I would find it interesting and could represent the medical side for them.
The meeting started as usual — the introductions and then the IT supervisor began to enter the pertinent data that the program had been designed to track and report on. Except the data kept being lost as soon as she clicked on another screen.
Two, three, four, five, six times. The IT supervisor entered the same information in the proper reporting fields of the program only to lose the data time and time again. At that point, I spoke up. Having computerized my own office back in 1989 and having given a CME seminar on computers in the medical office for the Indiana Academy of Family Physicians, I had some familiarity with what could go wrong in the design of a new program. I diagnosed the root cause of the problem and suggested a solution.
“Oh, no. That’s not it,” replied the supervisor, dismissing my suggestion straight out of hand. Once again she entered the data in the assigned fields, then again and again. The results were the same. Each time she returned to the screen, all the entered information magically disappeared.
By this time the customers had grown visibly impatient at the lack of progress and were in the process of closing their notepads and standing. Seeing that her customers were about to walk out of the meeting, the IT supervisor desperately made one final attempt — this time she did exactly what I had said. It worked. All the entered data now was there!
Everyone in the room looked at the screen in dead silence, amazed that my suggestion had worked. It was at that point that a young IT intern, sitting on the seat just to my left, turned to me and said, in a loud enough voice for all in the room to hear her, “Dr. Maestro! This is the first time you ever have seen this program. How in the world did you know what was wrong when we didn’t?”
I felt proud of myself that evening when I arrived home. I showed the company that I was good at something else other than just medicine. It then came as a complete surprise when, the next morning at work, I received an email from the head of the company’s whole IT division. Word had reached him as to what had happened and of my attempt to help. He thanked me for my attendance and assistance. He then went on to inform me that my services would never be solicited at another IT meeting ever again. In essence, I was barred from attending any future IT meeting.
Now it was my turn to sit and stare dumbfounded at the computer screen.
Calvin J. Maestro is a family physician and author of Leadership Lessons from History: A Study Guide Written for Physicians & Other Healthcare Leaders.
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