Chuck Webster: Drone master, robot maker, man of many degrees (Healthcare IT News Profile)

I’m tweeting a lot before, during, and after the HIMSS15 conference in Chicago. Sometimes folks surf from my Twitter profile to my blog. So I’m reposting here Scott Tharler’s excellent profile, which appeared March 2 Healthcare IT News. If you’re interested in any of my passions — healthcare workflow, workflow tech, wearables, Internet Of Things, 3D-printing, robots, drones, Arduino, Twitter — I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter at @wareFLO!)


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[Caption under the above photo of Mr. RIMP and me: Chuck Webster, MD holding a version of the robot he created, Mr. RIMP. “I am not above jumping on the latest gadget because it’s a way to generate content.”]

If at HIMSS15 you spot a tall gentleman wearing Google Glass, with a robotic pocket protector and a 4.5 -inch drone hovering over him while taking HD video, you’ve just encountered Chuck Webster, MD.

Otherwise known on Twitter as @wareFLO, has in years past been spotted walking around toting a 3D printer in a small Lucite box. Before that, he was ‘The Hat Cam Guy.’ And this year Webster will serve among the credentialed HIMSS15 Social Media Ambassadors who attend the conference and essentially share what they find via social channels.

“I am not above jumping on the latest gadget because it’s a way to generate content,” Webster explains. Indeed, Webster currently owns three drones. But he doesn’t just adopt gadgets – he creates them.

A year and a half ago, Webster invested time in learning about 3D printing, open source hardware, the Internet of Things, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi; combined those technologies into an interactive wearable device; and the ‘Robot In My Pocket’ (a.k.a. Mr. RIMP, who has his own Twitter account) was born.

Designed for pediatricians and others who work in children’s hospitals, Mr. RIMP can be customized with clever sayings and amusing little animations to entertain children. “There is a serious side to Mr. RIMP,” Webster explains. “He’s my experimental wearable workflow platform.”

A member of the maker movement, Webster – who’s taking classes in injection molding – hints that future versions of the kid-friendly gadget may incorporate slicker design; contain custom electronics; and perhaps be controllable through a Pebble watch.

“I want him to be programmable by people who aren’t programmers,” Webster says. “That’s very consistent with what I would eventually want to see in the health IT world.”

His vision: Doctors, nurses and patients having the ability to adapt their health IT tools and ecosystem to fit their needs, rather than the other way around.

It all makes sense, based on his academic origins.

Back in his undergraduate days at the University of Chicago, Webster – perhaps the world’s only accountancy-pre-med dual major – became interested in healthcare costs. His advisor, president of healthcare operations research with a PhD in applied mathematics from Johns Hopkins, steered Webster toward an MD. His graduate work included programming and analyzing flight simulation emergencies and computerized manufacturing workflow simulations.

Fast forward a few decades and several earned degrees to the present wherein Webster obsessively scans the websites of all (roughly 1,200) vendors exhibiting at HIMSS each year. He’s on the lookout for companies that put an emphasis on workflow in their products, as it pertains to usability, patient safety and interoperability.

“Three or four years ago, I had trouble finding interesting stuff,” Webster admits. But by his estimates, the fraction of workflow-related vendors had doubled twice between 2012 and 2014, up to about 16 percent last year.

Now companies come to him, as they strategize on how best to make their products relevant to healthcare. Not surprising since this perpetual proponent of process-aware technologies lives by the mantra:

“Moderation in everything – except workflow.”


Let’s Use Dell Business Process Management for End-to-End Healthcare Service Delivery and Transformation

Every year, since 2013, I participate in the Dell #DoMoreHIT Healthcare Think Tank online event. (My past tweets on #DoMoreHIT hashtag.) It’s a wonderful opportunity to push my monomaniacal agenda 🙂 to raise awareness about the need to deploy more true workflow technology in healthcare. This year my angle is this: Let’s Use the Dell Business Process Management Suite In Healthcare! Your mission, should you decide, to accept it…. wait, I’m getting ahead of my self. Please read on.

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PTBE: Photo To Be Explained

Part of my assumed role as a HIMSS Social Media Ambassador is to use whatever means necessary to accelerate diffusion of workflow tech into healthcare and health IT. Dell will be at the upcoming HIMSS15 conference in Chicago, booth 955. I hope you’ll inquire into their workflow solutions. Healthcare needs more workflow technology and you can help!

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The theme of the #DoMoreHIT Think Tank is entrepreneurship, consumerism, and social media. There are lots of interesting connections from those topics to workflow platforms (see my The Intelligent Workflows Behind Engaging Patient Experiences). Look for my tweets on the #DoMoreHIT hashtag on Monday from 11AM to 2PM EST). In this post I’ll drill down into features and benefits of the Dell Business Process Management Suite. The following is a series of quotes I pulled from the Dell BPM brochure along with my amplifying comments.

Dell BPM Suite Relevance to Healthcare
“there’s a growing need to radically change the problem-solving mindset to reduce, streamline and eliminate repetitive process work” So true in healthcare!
“Dell Services has pioneered the concept of Automated Full-Time Employees (AFTEs). The Dell AFTE solution includes over 50 vertical specific and vertical-agnostic tools that reduce, if not completely eliminate, human effort by automating repetitive, high-volume and rules-based tasks.” Interesting! Automated Full-Time Employees. Everyone knows, or should know, that a majority of healthcare cost is expensive human labor. In fact, when setting up a budget one speaks of fully loaded FTEs — no, not inebriated, basically the total cost of an employee, not just compensation. So Dell’s AFTE potentially goes to the very heart of healthcare costs.
  • “Utilize a complex set of sequential process activities, logically broken down by business rules
  • Repeat specific steps without variation and with a high degree of accuracy
  • Enable a set of man-machine interactions that are designed to reduce effort by as much as 50 percent
  • Perform certain activities automatically”
So far, a classic description of business process management!
Benefits of Dell AFTE:

  • Reduce costs: AFTEs cost significantly lower than the price of an offshore full-time employee (FTE).
    Increase efficiency: AFTEs can potentially work 24×7 and each AFTE can replace approximately two to three FTEs.
  • Improve accuracy: AFTEs eliminate errors that humans make in high-volume processes such as missed process steps, inaccurate data entry or calculation errors. AFTEs do it the right way, every time.
  • Utilize in-depth industry knowledge: Using embedded industry knowledge, the AFTE solution is able to automate complex process such as medical coding, claims adjudication and accounts receivable management.
  • Improve speed to market: AFTEs give you the ability to ramp up your process volumes through an iterative implementation model.
  • Improve regulatory compliance: Through detailed audit trails and the assurance of programmatically delivered processes, AFTEs ensure compliance with industry regulations.”
Each and every one of these benefits is highly relevant to healthcare. My favorite? Utilize in-depth industry knowledge. Because this exactly what makes healthcare different. (In fact. it’s what makes every industry different!) Note the mention of medical coding. One of the great debates and push-backs regarding ICD-10 is the increase in the amount of work required by physicians. So, why not use BPM/AFTE’s help reduce cost, increase efficiency, improve accuracy, speed to market, and regulatory compliance of ICD-10 initiatives? (I’ve seen signs of some progress here, but not nearly enough, in my opinion.)
“So what does it take to replace human effort with AFTEs? The Dell AFTE model utilizes an iterative process to deconstruct work activities through identification of each micro step and reconstruction of the work activity by deploying a combination of automated techniques and manual effort.” Again, a classic workflow management/BPM approach. As I have said, over-and-over, we need to create models of work and workflow, and then execute and mechanically consult those models, to systematically improve usability, safety, productivity, interoperability, and even patient experience and engagement.
“we have been automating workflow and knowledge management tasks since 2001. The toolset’s evolution has absorbed thousands of ideas from business process practitioners, leading to the creation of a self-learning, seamlessly integrated suite of business process management applications.” Cool. Not a BPM noobie. Self-learning … can you spell learning health care systems?
“Workflow management portal:

  • Skills- and role-based routing logic is used to enable workforce specialization and collaboration across the process chain
  • Its rapid configuration capability enables automated access to files, work process flow design and efficient, granular measurement, as well as process productivity and quality reporting
  • Estimated 10–15 percent improvement of productivity and quality”
Again. Classic. Now think on this. Dell already supplies enormous amounts of tech products and services to the healthcare industry. Given the incredibly complementary fit between the long list of workflow related problems in healthcare, causing a long list of usability, safety, productivity, interoperability, and patient experience and engagement problems in healthcare, the following has just got be inevitable. Dell BPM tech in healthcare. In fact, it’s already here! (See next entry…)
“CodeFinder and ezyCode

  • International Classification of Diseases/Current Procedural Terminology (ICD/CPT) online code finder including cross-walk solution
  • Automated medical coding using natural language processing”
Nuff said! (well, at least here, in this particular table cell element… please read on…)

In addition to Dell’s foundational work Process Management Layer, Dell also describes its Process Transformation Layer (analytics for process health indicators and key performance indicators). And describes its Integration and Access Layer (accepts input variety of formats and from market leading integration tools, plus access via web, Android, and iOS). So you can see that Dell BPM tech is not just relevant to usability, productivity, consistency, agility, etc., but to workflow interoperability as well.

You Mission, Should You Decide To Accept It…

One of my many little projects, adding up to my very big main project (workflow-ization of healthcare?), is finding companies with both a health IT footprint and a workflow tech foot print, and trying to get those feet working together. So, when you get to HIMSS15, go the Dell booth #955, and ask them about using the Dell Business Process Management Suite to solve your healthcare workflow problems.

Tell them The Secretary sent you (who will, of course, disavow any knowledge of your mission).