In the early 1990’s a Kansas City North businessman began a company with his friends to digitize health care. One part visionary and equal parts owner of a golden goose, Neal Patterson would go on to own and operate one of the largest employers in Kansas City and a dominant brand in health care.
But it wasn’t until the early 2000’s before that mission became personal. Neal’s wife, Jeanne, got breast cancer in 2007 and Neal would go with Jeanne to doctor after doctor seeking care. Every time, he would be presented with a clipboard. You know the one. It’s the clipboard with one or a dozen sheets of paper that ask for the patient’s health history. Each time, Neal and Jeanne would complete the clipboard as Neal’s anger grew just a little longer. Here he was the owner of the technology company that could fix this problem, or at least move it closer, and yet, he was helpless sitting in a waiting room with a pen and a clipboard.
He famously began carrying shopping bags of Jeanne’s medical records with her to each appointment in a passive-aggressive attempt to color his frustration that the doctor down the hall’s computer system couldn’t talk to the other doctor’s computer system. Add into that a pathology lab, a radiology team, a hospital surgeon, and a dozen more offices. The bags grew fuller.
I began working at Neal’s company in 2014 and the stories of Neal walking from doctor’s office to doctor’s office were legendary by that point. This is THE problem we were supposed to solve. This was the work we were to connect to. We were to get rid of Jeanne’s shopping bags of medical records.
Jeanne died and, unfortunately, Neal got cancer and died a few years later. For a multitude of reasons, most notably that health care is complicated, the mission of Jeanne’s shopping bags fell into the background of our day-to-day work. It is still part of the bedrock there, but so are investors, stock prices, and government regulations. A company that expected hard work began to expect back-breaking work. I left there a couple of years ago.
I thought alot about Jeanne over the last few weeks as my family is struggling with our own breast cancer diagnosis. I chuckled when the first doctor’s office we visited greeted us with a clipboard and a packet of papers asking for health history. By the fourth doctor’s office, I could feel exactly what Neal felt as we literally crossed a hallway to another office and were greeted with another clipboard. Now there are “E-Check-ins” but either out of a lack of trust for the computers, or habit, we were greeted with clipboards many more times.
Almost 20 years after Neal’s frustration started his parade to offices with bags of shopping records, I feel that not much progress has been made. Of course that’s false, but we haven’t gotten rid of a keystone of frustration for patients who are scared and needing medical help. It immediately erases confidence when the doctor you’re seeking help from can’t talk to the office across the hall. It starts you from net negative when you’re already battling a health crisis.
With the world (hopefully) returning to normal, for those of you, my friends, that still work there, and those of us still in the IT community that can help effect change, let’s make the clipboard a thing of the past, finally.
(Get more thoughts on eliminating clipboards and on health care in general by following Chris Kamler on Twitter, where he is known as @TheFakeNed)