NHITWeek insights from wounded vet

‘You have influence that you probably don’t realize’
By Bernie Monegain
08:42 AM
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Army

Retired Capt. Nathan Wayne Waldon had his audience at hello.

With a mix of humor, storytelling skills, health IT insight and slides transporting them to Iraq in 2007 that included a photo of the himself – one that showed the last time he had two legs on American soil – he kept the crowd at the HIMSS Public Policy Summit rapt to the end.

The wounded warrior and CEO of Reveille Group, keynoted the HIMSS Policy Summit Thursday in the nation's Capitol. The annual summit is part of National Health IT Week, observed across the country.

Waldon delivered his keynote just before HIMSS members would "take the Hill" with their "three health IT asks" from senators and representatives. Top on the list this year is asking Congress to support robust interoperability and health data exchange, something that Waldon sees as critical.

Waldon served as platoon leader with the 3rd Infantry Division during deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was wounded in combat in July 2007. His right leg had to be amputated, and he sustained severe burns on the right side of his body.

"Wrong place, wrong time," he said. "You don't think it's going to happen to you."

"It is a little bit intimidating being with people that can have – or do have – this impact on people's lives, on patient's lives and your recovery process," Waldon told the room packed with HIMSS members, who all work with some aspect of health IT. "You have influence that you probably don't realize [you have] because of what you do on a daily basis."

"You really do have a valuable impact on the patient experience and the healthcare IT landscape. I've seen it first-hand," Waldon added later in his talk, as he told them about the lack of information that he and his family encounter during the first few weeks after his injury as he was shuttled from hospitals in Iraq to hospitals in Germany and finally to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

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"Medical information and technology would have been useful at these points," said Waldon, who noted that the VA portal does not "talk" to the DOD portal.

He received top care at Walter Reed, he said, though he recounted a mix-up with his X-ray records that ended up costing him another 3 months in the hospital.

"I recognize my experience is a little bit different than the majority of our service men and women – unique," he said. "It's afforded me a lot of wonderful opportunities."

One of those is that he can continue to return to his primary care team at Walter Reed for his care.

"If you get out of the service with a non-traumatic injury, if you will, these people kind of don't have the access," he said. "You might have to figure out something else." There are a few more hospitalsl today working to break down the access barrier, he said, but advances on that score were occurring even back in 2007.

Waldon had the benefit of having his care centralized – "a one-stop shop," he calls it. "That afforded me a level of efficiency that some people do not have in the healthcare system."

Waldon spoke of the days immediately following his injury. "People can provide solace and comfort, but it' really on a personal level how you're going to determine that you're going to move on. The role that you can play in reducing the frustration and the kind of complexity of that process is important," he told the audience. "The fact that you can make this process so much easier is something that is very impressive to me."

As he was recovering at Walter Reed, he was encouraged to focus on himself – "you need to focus on you; you need to get yourself up to a certain place." But, Waldon added, "your family and caregivers own this process, too.

"That's where I think healthcare IT technology can help. I reference this in a general sense, because you are experts in the room, people who are designing the systems, the portals, etc.. – even on the back end and how the stuff talks to one another."

What's needed, he said, is a  common baseline with easy access, one that does not require 15 passwords to get in, and is easy to navigate.

Transparency and health literacy are central to getting safe care, he added, and he called for "enhancing clarity" in care systems. He considers himself fairly tech savvy, and also having received top care. But, he also understands how frustrating even a good system could be for many people, especially for those who don't have the one-stop-shop care he received.

Today, Waldon, who has always considered himself an athlete, is an avid snowboarder. After a stint working in information technology at General Dynamics, he launched Reveille Group to help government agencies and business owners across industries.

"Everyone in this room is really committed to something bigger," Waldon said in concluding his talk."You chose to be involved in a sector that is not easy, that is wrought with a lot of challenges and obstacles. Thank you for what you're doing. It's made the challenges people face better. I hope on the Hill today - actually, I know what you do on the Hill today is you want to make an impact for the people that you're serving."

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