Editor’s Notebook: Conferences and Silos

November / December 2009

Editor’s Notebook

Conferences and Silos

While attending a number of conferences in October, I was struck by the siloed nature of most of the educational sessions I attend. As a member of the media, I go to a lot of conferences. Though I often work on articles that identify “silos” — the provincial cultures of specialized communities in healthcare — as counter-productive for safety, I had not previously recognized the silos in conference-based education.

I can say honestly that in all cases, the information, discussion, and networking I experience at conferences are interesting and worthwhile. Most of the time, however, presenters and attendees at any given meeting share similar perspectives, lending a one-dimensional quality to the program. That’s natural, given that most conferences are convened by professional or specialty organizations to advance collegiality and education among their members.

Recently, sitting in yet another educational session on electronic medical records, I had a vision: What if I could scoop up groups of attendees at various meetings and swap them around in real-time? What if 30 risk managers suddenly popped up at a Health 2.0 discussion of patient empowerment? What if 30 seasoned physicians from IHI’s National Forum dropped in on a HealthCamp “unconference” session on user-generated and controlled health data? How about seeding a HIMSS presentation about clinical documentation with 30 nurse managers from the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) Patient Safety Congress? I realize I sound mischievous. Though conference overload may have triggered my daydream, I believe sincerely that all of these communities — and healthcare, in general — would benefit from cross-fertilization.

To be fair, organizers of these conferences often provide variety — and escape from the silo — while planning their programs. Health 2.0 was adventuresome to include clinicians who provided a reality check for idealistic visions of patient engagement as well as payers who brought their buckets of cold water (to mixed reviews from attendees). Connected Health has offered at least one speaker in each of the past two years who provided me a welcome “stretch” out of my intellectual comfort zone. In 2008, Cass Sunstein applied his concept of “nudge” to healthcare in a brilliant presentation that I often think about, and this year, Nicholas Christakis took us on a wild, entertaining review of his research on the effects of social networks in the spread of health “phenomena.” IHI President and CEO Don Berwick often makes his audience squirm a bit in ways that are enriching. NPSF insured that patient advocates joined patient safety luminaries at the Lucian Leape Institute workshops and dinner in October, to mutual benefit.

I am grateful for the unusual opportunity I have to participate in a variety of healthcare communities. I will continue to do my best to share the benefits of that opportunity with readers of PSQH and wish that more of you could enjoy the same.

In the Sept./Oct. issue, Robert M. Pickoff, MD, MMM, should have appeared as a fourth author of Unit Transformation Improves Safety for Mothers and Newborns (pp. 24–28). You will find his byline and biography online at http://www.psqh.com/septemberoctober-2009/238-unit-transformation-improves-safety-for-mothers-and-newborns.html.