Specialists, Generalists and “Blame the Victim”

An article I read this weekend on TechRepublic caught my eye with its title: “Insist medical practices hire specialists rather than one generalist”. The author (Donovan Colbert) discusses another post by another author (Erik Eckel) who had been called in to clean up a mess left by a previous IT provider. The previous provider had incurred a significant cost for the client and failed to correct the issue. Donovan’s summed it up thusly:

What kind of business throws a Raid 10, 32 GB, SSD, dual CPU/multi-core server at a performance problem and yet has a network that some hack threw together with daisy-chained D-Link unmanaged switches? A healthcare provider.

Wow. Blame the victim much? He goes on to say:

Erik claims the problem is amateur IT consultants, but I think that is a symptom. The problem is healthcare professionals; more specifically, the doctors who run the medical practices cause many of these issues.

I wonder what doctor confronted with a specific and serious medical aliment would consider the services of a one-stop general practice to perform the necessary services to restore her to health. No MD would go in for surgery if one guy claimed he was capable of doing it all — the cutting, the clamping, the anesthetics, and any other specialties required to operate; and yet, doctors will hire one consultant to handle their entire IT solution, including systems, applications, networking, wireless, hardware, and printers.

I’m not sure what it is about health care professionals that pushes Donovan’s buttons, but it seems to me that Erik is right on the money. No doctor (or anyone else, for that matter) is going to depend on a generalist for specialist procedures, but most people don’t have a stable full of specialists on call, either. They start out with a general practitioner, who will refer them out to specialists as appropriate. That same model should work for IT as well.

Just as the patient (in most cases) isn’t a doctor, the doctor isn’t an IT person. Expecting a doctor, or for that matter, any non-IT business person, to independently manage their services is as ridiculous as expecting a patient without any medical background to be able to independently manage their own care.

The issue in this instance appears to be one of professionalism. The prior provider lacked the requisite knowledge and failed their customer by not calling in someone who had the skills needed. Worse, that provider caused the client to pay for something that wasn’t needed. Ironically, it was Donovan himself who identified the answer:

My gift as an IT professional is not how outrageously skilled and knowledgeable I am from one end of the IT spectrum to another; my gift is that I know enough to realize when I am out of my scope, and to say, “we need to bring in someone else who specializes in this area to deal with this issue.”


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