19 hospital execs name the health IT terms that make them cringe

Everybody needs to vent sometimes, even those running the technology strategy at a hospital or health system. Below, 19 healthcare executives share the health IT terms and buzz words they find overused, annoying or cringeworthy.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for clarity and style.

Karen Murphy, PhD, RN. Chief Innovation Officer at Geisinger (Danville, Pa.). The most overused term I hear daily is "digital strategy." Technology is not the strategy. The strategy should be transformation. We will end up in the same place we are today if we "digitize" without transforming experience, care delivery and lowering the total cost of care.

Ed McCallister. Senior Vice President and CIO at UPMC (Pittsburgh). "Disruption." Disruption for the sake of disruption is unproductive and a distraction from our goal of outstanding patient care. Change that results in a better outcome — "productive disruption" — should always be the goal.

Lisa Stump. Senior Vice President and CIO at Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health. I recommend we avoid the phrase "keep the lights on" when it comes to health IT. The phrase implies that IT is simply a utility in healthcare, and that we simply need our computers and systems to "turn on" when needed. The phrase vastly underrepresents digital technology and the data it generates in support of high quality health services. 

Will Weider. Senior Vice President and CIO at PeaceHealth (Vancouver, Wash.). On the top of a very long list of ambiguous and incorrectly used terms is artificial intelligence. AI has come to mean anything that involves a complex algorithm. Of course, software algorithms have continually gotten more complex since ENIAC started calculating missile trajectories. It is a given that tomorrow’s applications will be more complex than yesterday’s. So, I don’t need a consultant telling me to "use AI" without a specific use case or technology.

Scott MacLean. Senior Vice President and CIO at MedStar Health (Columbia, Md.). "Interoperability" is a buzzword that should be avoided. There are many examples of where we can successfully interoperate. We all know that we respond to incentives. Better quality and payment incentives would foster information exchange and reduction in clinician burnout.

Zafar Chaudry, MD. Senior Vice President & CIO at Seattle Children's. I find that the phrase "digital" is overused. There are so many different definitions as to what "digital" really is, and it is different for each organization. Many tack on "transformation" leading to the term "digital transformation." I find that people often talk about "digital transformation" without understanding it. For example, enabling the clinical workforce to use mobile devices —now is that really "digital transformation" or simply playing catch up to 2021?

Tom Barnett. Vice President and Chief Information and Digital Officer at Baptist Memorial Health Care (Memphis, Tenn.). The most overused term I hear daily in health technology is "digital front door." I don't even think everyone uses the term the same way; it's sort of a catch-all phrase and is rarely expressed in terms of actual use cases.

AI as a concept makes sense, but too often I hear it injected almost like foam filler to plug holes in historically problematic areas within healthcare. "We can address that problem with AI," OK but how will you do that?

"Digital transformation" is also a ubiquitous term that gets applied to something that, in reality, is really in need of some serious process streamlining and technology optimization. To digitally transform something is a great concept, but it doesn't quite get close enough to the mark. Business process optimization combined with technology improvements have both been hand-in-hand for decades — however, some do it better than others.

R. Hal Baker, MD. Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at WellSpan Health (York, Pa.). "Digital strategy." Digital technology offers wonderful opportunities to find a better way and change the way we deliver health care, but digital technology is the vehicle, not the destination. 

The key is not to ask "What can we do with digital?" but rather "What have we always dreamed of doing and can now do because we can make it digital?" At WellSpan Health, we know the strategy needs to be around the problem and digital solutions are the tools we use to solve it. That’s why we’ve implemented tools and collaborated with partners that are focused on modernizing care delivery for our patients.

Kolaleh Eskandanian, PhD. Chief Innovation Officer at Children’s National Hospital (Washington, D.C.). A frequently-used buzz phrase in healthcare in general and often borrowed by health IT is patient centricity. Used outside the right context, it can create doubt as if a healthcare entity is including the notion of patient centricity as a bonus to patients. 

Healthcare, by definition, should always put patients front and center. To provide the highest quality patient experience, we must engage both patients and clinicians in any successful healthcare implementation — workflow or technology.

Jeffrey Sturman. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer at Memorial Healthcare System (Hollywood, Fla.). "Disruption." I think we should all look to evolve our healthcare industry to make the experience for our patients and consumers as easy to navigate as possible, but "disruption" has a negative connotation. I would love to see us be focused on taking the friction out of healthcare and using digital tools to enhance the way we provide services — not to disrupt, but rather to enhace!

Daniel Durand, MD. Chief Clinical Officer at LifeBridge Health (Baltimore). I would say the phrase "artificial intelligence" is the most over-hyped and overused in the health IT industry these days, with misuses and abuses of the term ranging from merely wrong-but-misinformed to outrageously misleading. Health IT startups and their financiers are the largest group of offenders, but many others are involved, from individuals to nonprofit health systems. 

The issue clearly begins with the lack of a clear consensus definition for AI — this stems from the original 1956 communication by McCarthy et al., in which the term AI was initially coined. Since that time, there has been an active and healthy debate over what actually constitutes AI, a topic that is well beyond the scope of this piece. However, what clearly constitutes overuse — in my opinion — is the sheer number of firms that were self-identified as "analytics," "algorithm," "decision support," or "automation"  software during their initial funding rounds just a few years ago, and which now claim to be selling "AI solutions."

The ability to calculate something, recognize a pattern and/or carry out a series of steps independently —clearly all of these are pieces of AI. But if a product was sold with the more basic definition a few years ago and it's now being called "healthcare AI" mainly for marketing purposes, then I view that as disingenuous and ultimately not helpful to progress.

Nick Patel, MD. Chief Digital Officer at Prisma Health (Columbia, S.C.). "AI" is a buzzword that has been springing up in many conversations by health system executives across the country. Many healthcare startups are also jumping on the bandwagon and selling "AI" solutions. There is great variance in its definition, technology expectations and intended use, which therefore dilutes its true potential and capability. 

As Morpheus from The Matrix said, "At sometime in the early 21st century all of mankind was united in celebration, as we marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI." Be careful what you wish for.

Jason Joseph. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer at Spectrum Health (Grand Rapids, Mich.). "Disrupt" or "disruptive" is the most overused buzzword in IT — because it implies something being done to us instead of an innovative response to competition.

Thomas Graham, MD. Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at Kettering (Ohio) Health. "Disruptive innovation." Both terms are misunderstood and misused, but together they set a dangerous precedent. 

First, "disruptive" has become synonymous with the influence of external forces defining the future of healthcare — those of us on the "inside" will adapt and reinvent ourselves to meet the challenges of the contemporary healthcare landscape. 'Innovation' has long been the most coveted of enterprise characteristics but the most elusive to define; it’s not an ethereal creativity, but a disciplined process that is process-driven and metrics-driven. 

Ray Gensinger, MD. CIO at Hospital Sisters Health System (Springfield, Ill.). "Digital" strategy. Every year, there is a word that seems to collect marketing hype and this one seems to be the term of the decade now replacing "blockchain" and "big data" from the last two decades.

Companies have strategies. Within that company projects, programs and marketing are aligned to deliver on the strategy of the company. In healthcare, we are working to create consumer-centric and efficient tools and services that meet the changing expectations of new generations of consumers. Consumer-accessible health and wellness is what the strategy really is.

Mark Zirkelbach. CIO at Loma Linda (Calif.) University Medical Center. Every industry has its overused phrases. One that transcends health IT but holds a special place in our vocabulary is "seamless." Seamless implies it is effortless to achieve, but the reality is it is the most challenging.   

Claus Torp Jensen, PhD. Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Vice President of Research and Development and IT at Teladoc Health (Purchase, N.Y.). AI is probably the most overused phrase in healthcare IT right now. First of all, often what is inside the solution isn’t actually truly AI, but rather structured rules. Second, AI is mostly meaningless without being applied in the context of a truly intelligent solution that solves a meaningful problem for someone, in healthcare often a clinical problem. 

And third, the healthcare IT challenges facing our generation are not about cool point solutions, rather about how we must build a new type of platform catering to the whole health of a person. And in that worthy endeavor, AI is simply one of amongst many tools that we must apply cohesively together.

Alice Khosravy, PhD. Chief Digital Innovation Officer at Digital Health Innovations (Las Vegas). "Digital transformation" because that era is behind us, as digital is now embedded in care delivery services, products and operations. Digital strategies continue to evolve, but we have moved on to the digital first era.

Prentice Tom, MD. Chief Futurist at Vituity (Emeryville, Calif.). One of the most overused/misused terms in health IT is "partner" used as a verb. What IT companies almost always mean is they want to sell a service or product.  

They almost never mean they want to help build a service or solution for the care delivery group, invest resources and money that they put at risk, or share the cost, risk and gains. I have asked specifically what companies mean by "partner" with us, and have been told almost verbatim, "well, we sell you our product and you use it." At least to me, that doesn’t sound like "partnering" at all.

Understand our business, help create a solution to a problem, go at risk with us on a new service offering — we are happy to "partner" with companies looking to do this. Selling a service or product is completely OK also. But just say that’s what you want to do.  

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