June 3, 2020

G. Cameron Deemer of DrFirst: Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During This Corona Crisis”

The most important way we can support others is by not confusing stay-at-home orders with the “end of society as we know it.” The panicked hoarding has put a very large number of people at risk for no reason. Food isn’t scarce, goods aren’t scarce, but far too many are piled uselessly in garages and closets and storage sheds. Staying calm and not acting selfishly is key to everyone’s well-being.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing G. Cameron Deemer, President of DrFirst.

Mr. Deemer serves as DrFirst’s president and brings more than 20 years of healthcare industry experience to this position. He joined DrFirst in 2004 as the director of product management before being appointed general manager in 2005 and president shortly thereafter. Since joining DrFirst, Mr. Deemer has played an instrumental role in formalizing and driving improved business processes, while developing new technology strategies to leverage the benefits of e-prescribing and other DrFirst platform services for providers, hospitals, payers, and other healthcare stakeholders. He has also been a strong proponent of promoting interoperability in the healthcare industry by sharing clinical data between systems. Prior to joining DrFirst, Mr. Deemer was assistant vice president of product management for PCS Health Systems/AdvancePCS and also led the e-prescribing and practice management product strategy for NDCHealth.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I came to healthcare IT in a very roundabout way. I’ve always felt very mission-driven, and originally, I channeled that focus into a career in the ministry. I worked for several years in local churches as a youth minister and later as a pastor.

During that time, I became interested in groups around the world who had only spoken languages and, therefore, no access to written books, including the Bible. This led me to get deeply involved in the application of technology to linguistics, and I worked with a team of Bible translators in Papua New Guinea until the early nineties.

After a number of bouts with malaria, I returned to the states in the middle of the recession in ’92 and happened to find work with a prescription benefit management company. My ten years there introduced me to both the vast complexities of the business of healthcare and to early attempts to digitally transform paper prescribing to electronic prescribing. As it happens, that company was acquired four times while I was there, which made me think deeply about how to stay “on mission” when the business is changing so rapidly around you. After a couple of additional years with another very large company, I decided to walk away from big business. I wanted to find a startup where people were more than just resources, and where it was okay to “do the right thing.” I was fortunate to find DrFirst, a young company that was eager to pioneer new technologies around medication management.

I guess the bottom line is that I’m an accidental entrepreneur working in one of the most complex, challenging, and rewarding industries.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A book that rocked me and dramatically changed my thinking was the novel, Daemon, by Frank Suarez, and it’s follow-up, Freedom. To be honest, I re-read the first chapter a few times to fully understand what was happening, but once I got started, I couldn’t read it fast enough. The book is an exploration of a possible future driven by AI. It captured my attention because what originally drew me to computing was the idea of working with a machine that could do anything I could conceive for it to do — limited only by my imagination. In Daemon, I got a taste for how today’s technology could be used to dramatically change our culture and our world, following the vision of a brilliant software architect. The story was frightening because I could see that it was only a half-turn away from where we are today. But it also was inspiring because technology was being used to upend all the political and economic structures that create so much human misery. It challenged me to think deeply about the degree to which it’s ethical or moral to use technology to create a “good” world at the cost of human freedom. An awful lot of technology today is justified because it “does good,” or just “doesn’t do evil.” Daemon explores these tradeoffs and gave me a whole new cautiousness about the paternalistic application of modern tech.

Interestingly, we are faced with these tradeoffs today as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In exchange for the undeniable good of controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus, tech is giving us the opportunity to be tracked at all times and to have our contacts with others tracked. Today, compared to the potential deaths of ourselves or those we love, or just for societal good, universal tracking seems like it clearly belongs in the “good” column. Will it still seem good in five years? Or ten years? Will it seem good if we are tracked for other reasons? If anonymity disappears, along with all the things we take for granted around the freedom to travel and the freedom to associate with whomever we wish? It may never go that far, but one thing that does seem true about tech is that it moves forward, not back, so we had better be sure we’ve thought through the future we’re signing up for. And we’d better trust the architects of our future.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  • I feel awkward suggesting reasons for hope because there are so many people who are suffering right now. Deaths, costly hospitalizations, loss of jobs, loss of healthcare coverage, loss of homes. I hurt for those who will suffer before this pandemic ends. But I do believe there is hope, and here are my five reasons:
  • This is a shared crisis, and there is an opportunity to renew our unity as households, neighborhoods, cities, states, and as a nation. We are learning to be here for each other. It starts with someone reaching out, then multiplies. In my neighborhood, there are many retirees who really need to stay at home and not expose themselves to the virus. My wife started making the rounds, letting them know that she would be happy to shop for them, take out their garbage cans, help them with whatever they would need, so they don’t have to leave their houses. She offered to share things with them that they can’t easily obtain, like toilet paper. Other people in the neighborhood also stepped up with offers to share what they have. It’s a small step, but it’s creating community in a new way, and this will make the next crisis, personal or national, easier for everyone.
  • We all have had time to think while sheltering at home. One thing we’ve noticed at DrFirst is that with no one traveling, we’re getting at least two extra days per week to work with people. Productivity is up instead of down. And this has us rethinking our work-from-home policies and our ability to employ staff located anywhere in the US without requiring frequent travel to our headquarters. On a personal level, my wife was pointing out the very positive impact on our bank account from not eating out or going to the store as often. Spending can become habit, and our enforced isolation has been a time to realize that a simpler life has its rewards.
  • The pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in our healthcare institutions and policies, as well as in our leaders who still are not seriously addressing these weaknesses. Going forward, we have an opportunity to demand candidates for elected office who are serious thinkers and not just reliable partisans. We will never have a better chance to become serious about healthcare access and costs and quality than we’ll have when we emerge from this crisis.
  • We can’t quite see it definitively yet, but this crisis will end. And it will likely end sooner than it would have even a few years ago. The work being done to sequence the virus, to test drug candidates, and to develop a vaccine is really progressing very quickly. “Very quickly” is relative, of course, but I believe this will be something we look back on as a breakthrough in speed to market.
  • One of the things I’m most excited about is watching the jobs return after the pandemic passes. I believe we’ve learned an important lesson about relying on factories and labs overseas to meet our needs during a true crisis. America has a chance to continue to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US now, in order to strengthen our self-reliance before the next emergency. I’m hopeful that although jobs have been lost now, they will be replaced by an exciting variety of new jobs going forward.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  • The most important way we can support others is by not confusing stay-at-home orders with the “end of society as we know it.” The panicked hoarding has put a very large number of people at risk for no reason. Food isn’t scarce, goods aren’t scarce, but far too many are piled uselessly in garages and closets and storage sheds. Staying calm and not acting selfishly is key to everyone’s well-being.
  • Be the first to offer to help. Visit your neighbors (by phone or by standing well back and wearing a mask). Ask if they’re okay. Ask if they need anything. Ask how you can help. Your willingness to go first will free others to do the same.
  • Be the first to wear a mask. Understandably, we feel ridiculous wearing masks in public. But if I wear a mask, you may be willing to wear a mask. If we all wear masks, the only people feeling awkward are the ones not wearing masks.
  • If you are communicating with co-workers, clients, family, friends in a video conference, turn on your camera. We need to see your face, and we don’t really care if you combed your hair or put on your makeup today. This crisis is an opportunity to be real with each other in small ways so that we can also be real with each other in big ways.
  • Listen more than you talk. We are all experiencing this pandemic in our own ways, and we really enjoy sharing how we are experiencing it. But it’s far more useful to listen to how others are experiencing the crisis and to learn to ask productive questions, rather than waiting impatiently for our turn to talk. A productive question is a question that opens the door to truth, rather than eliciting a meaningless answer. Ask, “How are you doing?” and you can expect to hear, “Fine.” However, ask, “How are you sleeping?” and it may open the door to having a real discussion. Other possible questions are, “What are your biggest challenges?” “What are you most worried about?” and “If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?” If you’re willing to listen, you may as well listen to meaningful words, so practice asking questions that give your friends a chance to open up.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
The most effective way to manage anxiety is to stay informed. This is a good time to subscribe to daily updates from your local paper (or a national publication) so that you have regular access to reliable information. You may also find that your city or county or state governments have email newsletters to keep you informed. If you work for a company, you may have access to an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) that offers counseling or resources specifically aimed at helping employees navigate difficult times. I also recommend finding ways to stay connected with other people, family, and friends. The phones still work, texting still works, and you can easily learn to FaceTime or Zoom or Skype. A key to controlling anxiety is to be more outwardly focused, rather than further isolating yourself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I developed a habit early in my career of asking my supervisor for guidance when I had a difficult decision to make. Then I went to work for Dan, and he was having none of it. When I asked Dan what I should do, he invariably said, “Why are you asking me?” I would play my role and say, “Because I have no idea what to do.” He would reply, “You may not know exactly what to do, but I guarantee you know 90% of the answer.” Then Dan would send me to his whiteboard and start asking me questions. I would write the answers, do the calculations, and discover that, yes, I actually did know 90% of the answer. After the third or fourth time this happened, I stopped asking Dan questions and started bringing him recommended solutions. This lesson stuck with me and taught me that strategic thinking is the key to management decisions. Asking the right questions frees up the knowledge you already have and lets you put it to productive use. I’ve taught this same lesson to many young managers, and it’s always fun to see their “aha moment” when they turn the corner and begin believing in themselves.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a movement to empower people, both literally and figuratively. Providing electricity to those who don’t have it can help make their lives safer and more comfortable. And, in turn, it can help them have more power to improve the world at large.

With a movement to increase access to electricity, probably through solar projects, it’s possible to consider all kinds of resulting benefits: pumping clean water, communication technologies, access to online learning, lighting to improve productivity, heating for homes, and providing an opportunity for generational improvements in quality of living. So much of what we have today, and tomorrow, is possible because of access to electricity.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!


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