Chuck Webster: Drone master, robot maker, man of many degrees

"I am not above jumping on the latest gadget because it's a way to generate content.”
By Scott Tharler
08:09 AM

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."

Meet the other HIMSS15 Social Media Ambassadors:

Linda Stotsky: Patient advocate, percussionist, adventurer 

Mandi Bishop: fitness freak, data junkie  and former wedding singer 

Brian Ahier: HIE-vangelist, hacky sack extraordinaire

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