COACH IMIA Representative – An Overview of the Role and its Relevance

As the outgoing COACH Representative to IMIA (the International Medical Informatics Association), I would like to share some details about this fascinating position, what I have learned, and the importance of this role to COACH and IMIA. I hope this will provide helpful perspective to COACH members, particularly those of you who might consider applying for this volunteer position.

Bringing together the best and the brightest

IMIA is the world body for health and biomedical informatics. IMIA provides leadership and expertise to the multidisciplinary health-focused community and to policy makers, to enable the transformation of healthcare in accord with the world-wide vision of improving the health of the world population using technology. Inherent in IMIA’s role is to bring together, from a global perspective, scientists, researchers, users, vendors, developers, consultants and suppliers in an environment of co-operation and sharing. IMIA has particular strength in promoting and developing health / biomedical informatics academic research across the world. It organizes and holds an international conference every two years, called MEDINFO, which brings together the best and brightest in the academic pursuit of scholarly work in health / biomedical informatics.

The COACH Representative to IMIA represents Canada on the world stage

IMIA conducts a General Assembly meeting once yearly, which the COACH representative attends with voting privileges. Also, every two years, the COACH representative holds a two year term on the IMIA Board as the Vice-President North America. In this role, the COACH member attends two meetings yearly – one is for a board meeting, and the other is for board and General Assembly meetings held two days in succession. Each yearly / twice yearly meeting is held in a different IMIA member country.

We in Canada can learn from our global colleagues through IMIA

In this role, it has been fascinating to learn through exposure to informaticists, clinicians and their research from many different countries. I have realized that every country faces challenges in leveraging technology to deliver the best healthcare. However, the challenges in each country are different, due to wide variations in policy, funding, geography, technical infrastructure, care environments, vendor mix, and patient needs.  As a result, the healthcare solutions that have evolved in each country are as different as the challenges they face. In my opinion, developing countries have been particularly innovative in the solutions that they have developed, sometimes through sheer necessity. We in Canada can learn from our global colleagues through IMIA.  By observing and learning from differences abroad, we can find new ways to approach our own challenges here at home.

Make a big difference

As a Board member at IMIA, I have learned much about the careful planning, organization, and diplomacy that is required to operate an international organization with a diverse membership and diverse services… including a major conference in a different country every 2 years! I have also realized that Canada and COACH play an important and relevant role on the world stage through IMIA. As a relatively small organization that bridges its member country organizations, IMIA depends very much on input and guidance from its constituent member representatives. This means that the COACH Representative to IMIA, armed with enthusiasm and interest, can make a big difference in IMIA as it continues to develop its portfolio of meaningful benefits and services to members across the world.

Jeremy Theal, MD FRCPC
Vice-President North America, IMIA