The “burning platform” overload hit me during Jonathan Perlin's last-day, last-session presentation at the conference. Perlin, a physician, is the president of clinical services and chief medical officer for HCA as well as the former top health official at the Veterans Affairs Department. Perlin's otherwise lively and informative presentation, which covered everything (and I mean everything, from the obesity epidemic to the details of the meaningful-use regulations), was distracting because he used “burning platform” four times. And each time he used it, a bright color photo of a burning oil platform appeared in his PowerPoint presentation.
What made it distracting was the fact that an image of a burning oil platform is no longer just an image. It's something that really happened, killed oil rig workers and led to the ongoing oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. The phrase and image are no longer analogies but realities. I'd be surprised if there was one person in the audience who didn't think of the gulf oil crisis when he or she saw the slide. Using the phrase and the slide now in a speech seems trivial.
On the other hand, Perlin's presentation generated one of the two warmest moments of the entire conference, which is often dominated by complex and serious (read dry and humorless) healthcare finance topics. During the question-and-answer period, an audience member stood up, went to the microphone and identified himself as a Vietnam War veteran. (At this point, of course, you didn't know what was going to happen next.) But the attendee said he used the VA health system, received great care and quietly and politely thanked Perlin for his efforts in turning the VA health system around. He then stepped away from the microphone and walked out of the conference room to thundering applause in recognition of Perlin's work and of the attendee's service to our country.
The second warmest—and no doubt the funniest—moment came during the annual HFMA chairman's banquet on the last evening of the conference. At the banquet, Debora Kuchka-Craig, corporate vice president for managed care at MedStar Health in Columbia, Md., was installed as the group's new chair. (See a a videotaped interview with Kuchka-Craig.) After the installation, acceptance speeches and the start of dinner, on came a videotaped parody of an Academy Awards-like gala at MedStar's headquarters being held in honor of Kuchka-Craig. The videotape starred other MedStar executives and Maryland hospital executives playing the roles of red-carpet tabloid reporters and Hollywood celebrities arriving in limos (which really was one car circling the parking lot, picking up executives on one side and driving them over to the other side). The gala went wild with the arrival of a faux Kuchka-Craig, who you were intentionally not able to see clearly because of the camera being jarred around by attendees rushing to get close to their home-town hero. For a group of people to put so much effort into a video honoring a peer, co-worker, supervisor or subordinate says a lot about who she is. To paraphrase a line from a real Academy Awards show, they really like her.
Finally, and most importantly, thank you to all our readers who stopped by the Modern Healthcare booth on the exhibit floor at the conference to offer feedback on our coverage, pitch a story, or just say hello. We appreciate all your support.