Developers with “normal” interpersonal skills are highly coveted team members in the business world. In the healthcare industry, however, you have to bring it to a whole other level.

I attended a meeting in Atlanta this week for a project the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) is working on in partnership with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who are headquartered in Atlanta. Typically, the sole tech person in this type of situation sticks out like a sore thumb. In fact, any non-medical professional in attendance ends up feeling inadequately prepared in a room filled with audiologists, speech language pathologists, epidemiologists, and physicians. I know this all too well from working with local health departments, hospitals, and electronic health record vendors over the past 10 years. The medical and public health community is filled with cliques, inside jokes, and terminology, so it is not enough to even have a good grasp on the functional aspects of your project… Knowing the definition of common acronyms is not going to impress anyone who has more letters after their name than there are in the acronym!

I make it a point to blend in to this crowd. This is not just to build trust and rapport, but so we can use time efficiently! Of all interactive participants in a collaborative meeting, the one with the least understanding is always the bottleneck. It is like explaining AES encryption to a layperson versus a tech person—it will take four times as long and at the end they will still not completely grasp the concept at the end. By combining studied functional and medical knowledge with technology expertise, I can ensure I do not end up being that efficiency bottleneck, despite my lack of MD, PhD, CCC-A, CCC-SLP post-nominals. Studying is not enough, though, because these folks can tell you just read that Wikipedia article when you mispronounce all your terminology! Real understanding comes from working directly with professionals and, believe it or not, simply asking questions. When they mention it, ask what “ototoxic medicines” are. When they talk about it, ask what differentiates a specific syndrome from a disorder. Learn it and known it! It is amazing how just how much a difference it makes to refer to “audis,” “speechies,” and “epis” by their own internal pet-names. You will not only be able to perform your job more effectively but you will be ready to blend in when the time comes.

It feels great to be in the position to turn the tables and see the blank look on their faces when you start talking about encryption algorithms :)

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