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Friday, March 18, 2016

It's both what and who...

You've probably heard the line: It's not what you know but who you know that counts.

In standards more than anything else, that's always been true, and yet not true at the same time.  I've found that if you can figure out who to ask, and WHAT to ask, you've conquered 90% of the problem.

What you are doing here is working the problem backwards.  You have a question, and you don't know the answer.  So the next question is WHO has the answer.  But way you don't know who actually has the answer, what do you do now?  Some get stymied at this point, and thrash around until they find out who.  I've been on the end of e-mail chains six and eight long that are evidence of that sort of thrashing.

So, the next question you have to figure out is WHAT form the answer will likely take. From there, you can often figure out the WHO.  This is a fairly obvious step, but it's surprising how many never take it.  So, if it is an HL7 Vocabulary question, the place to look would be active members of the HL7 Vocabulary workgroup.  If you can narrow it down to SNOMED CT or LOINC, that cuts down the number of likely people to two or three.  And so on.

But even then, sometimes you still won't know WHO.  You might have a good starting point for a question once removed from your original question.  Try this:

Dear XXX, I am trying to figure out _____ because _____.  Is this something you can help me with? If not, can you tell me who might be able to answer my question?

Worded this way, your question will often get you at least one more lead.  When you follow up, with your new lead, acknowledge the lead giver:

Dear YYY, I understand from XXX that you are the expert in ____. I'm ...

Suck up a little.  We love it.

If your problem requires more than a one or two line answer, you may need to be prepared to pay for it, but often you will be surprised by how many two-four page answers you will get.  Some of the experts in my particular field like to show off their expertise (I don't personally know anyone like that ... #saracasm).

Be persistent, and don't be afraid to look ignorant.  We understand in this field that ignorance is a correctable problem, and are often more than happy to apply the correction.  In fact, the cure to ignorance is a healthy dose of curiosity.

Thrice today knowing the what told me the who, and knowing the who and asking the right question got me answers quickly. If you keep digging for what and who, eventually your contact list will look like mine.

You won't need to know the answers to all standards questions off the top of you head, but you will know how to get them quickly, and that is JUST as valuable.