Dean Athanassiades, PMP, CPHIMS, CHS, FHIMSS, DSHS, senior director, software customer services, with Philips Healthcare in Atlanta, Ga., is chair of the Electronic Medical Record Change Management Task Force, a member of the Management Engineering and Process Improvement (MEPI Committee) and the recipient of the 2012 HIMSS/SHS award.
As a member of HIMSS, Athanassiades received a Distinguished Fellow Award in 2008 and a HIMSS Leadership Award in 2005. He served as chair of the HIMSS Fellows Council, Membership Services Committee and, Nominating Committee and was a member of the HIMSS Georgia chapter board of directors.
HIMSS: How did you become involved with HIMSS?
Athanassiades: In the late 1980s, while working in the computer industry, I took on an assignment working with a client in the healthcare industry. In an effort to be of must use to my client, I wanted to learn all I could about health IT. I asked one of my client colleagues how I could do that, and he told me to join HIMSS. That recommendation was truly one of the best that I have ever received. What I have learned about the industry, professional networking, professional organizations, sharing and giving back has been priceless.
HIMSS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement with HIMSS?
Athanassiades: The most rewarding aspect has been the opportunities to pay back (or pay forward) to others for the knowledge and networks that were shared with me 20 years ago.
HIMSS: What have been some of your greatest accomplishments with the ME-PI Committee and the Change Management Task Force?
Athanassiades: The thing that I am most proud of is the webinars that we've produced this year (and will continue producing next year), that feature practitioners describing case studies in which they applied one or more of the principles of change management that are part of the HIMSS Technology Adoption Framework. These webinars offer lasting value because they were designed in a manner that people that are interested in these topics can use them long after the webinar.
HIMSS: Congratulations on receiving the 2012 SHS/HIMSS Excellence in Healthcare Management Process Improvement Award! Can you describe your contributions which led to your nomination?
Athanassiades: It was truly an honor to receive an award from HIMSS and SHS. When I looked at the prior winners of the award, I realized that I am truly "walking on the shoulders of giants." You'd probably have to ask the award committee why they picked me, but I suspect it was because of the passion, energy, and commitment that I have demonstrated within both organizations during my career. I have been a member of both organizations since the early 1990s. I have volunteered for many leadership positions in both organizations. And I have sought to bridge the interests of both constituencies in everything I do because I am truly passionate about the intersection of the management engineering and health IT disciplines.
HIMSS: What are the most notable changes you¹ve seen in the field of health IT over the course of your career?
Athanassiades: I have to begin with a joke. My first job when I graduated from college was in banking in the early 1980s. The story told by bankers at the time was that an old banker was at his retirement party and someone asked, "What was the most notable change you've seen in the field of banking during your career?" The old banker thought for a moment, and then replied, "air conditioning." That was a way of expressing that change in banking didn't come quickly in the decades during which the old banker had worked. Over the next 30 years, leading up to today banking has incorporated disruptive change.
So, now that I have shared a joke, let me respond regarding the changes I have seen in health IT over the course of my career. I have seen a series of disruptive changes. The first came as a result of the transformation of the computer industry from mainframes to mini computers, servers, personal computers, and smart devices. In the mid-1980s, I had the pleasure of hearing Joel Birnbaum, who led Hewlett-Packard's research efforts, speak on the "domestication of the computer." He foresaw a time, way in the future, when we wouldn't be able to answer the question, "how many computers do you have in your home?" because the "computer" would be embedded in far too many things to count. The same would be true in the business environment. When I started in the industry, any organization could give you an exact count on the number of computers they owned. Today, I can't imagine a CIO being able to provide an exact count on the number of devices in her organization that contained a microprocessor.
So, the first major change was the domestication of computers.
The next major change I observed was the explosion in clinical applications. This included enterprise clinical applications like EMRs, but it also included a transformation of the medical devices from a"hardware" into a "software-enabled technology." Today, devices like X-rays, CT scanners, MRIs, patient monitors, ultrasound scanners, and electrocardiographs, are enabled by software, running on commercial operating systems, connected to enterprise networks. Having access to medical images and device data throughout an enterprise can provide significant advantages in how clinicians take care of patients. However, managing large image datasets and high volumes of data presents challenges that differ from conventional IT applications.
Another disruptive change was the internet and corporate intranets. The ability for devices to connect with one another has offered great benefits to the industry, but has also created great challenges and opportunities.
The renewed focus on the privacy and security of health records and the creation of legislation (HIPAA), and especially its privacy and security rules, is another development I’ve seen over the course of my career. In many ways, this changed how health IT applications were developed, how health IT networks are operated, and how heath IT people work.
Yet another disruptive change has been the incentives offered by our government meaningful use incentives.
Finally, while not disruptive but more evolutional, the changing interest in health IT has been remarkable. Look at the membership of HIMSS in 1990 and chart it to the current number of members. That speaks volumes about the interest in health IT.
HIMSS: What advice would you give professionals just entering the healthcare or IT field?
Athanassiades: I would encourage them to join HIMSS. I would also add to that, "always give more than you take."