After you read this paragraph, I want you to put the magazine down and go look at the glass-enclosed trophy case that's outside your administrative office. Really look at those gleaming crystal awards and bronze plaques. Think about which ones represent a glorified pat on the back for a job well done and which are part of a program that has pushed your organization to reach new heights. Go ahead. I'll wait.

(Final "Jeopardy" theme music playing)

What did you discover? My guess is it was a mixed bag, but that most of the honors are simply congratulatory. There's nothing wrong with that. Heck, I have a dozen or so plaques displayed in my cubicle, showing off my penchant for writing perfect prose. And while we can all use a boost to the ego, I can't say that the honors—or more specifically, the award programs—are helping me become the next Mike Royko.

There are some recognition programs where the award is actually secondary. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program comes to mind. Executives at companies that have won a Baldrige will tell you that their organizations spent years on performance improvement before being honored. Importantly, they'll stress that their efforts haven't stopped.

That's the mentality we at H&HN want hospital leaders to take when they think about our beloved Most Wired program. The program is so much more than a list we publish every July.

"We don't take the Most Wired survey just for the survey's sake," says Jim Veline, senior vice president and CIO of Avera Health, a 27-hospital system based in Sioux Falls, S.D. "It is really an instrument to move us in the direction of improving quality and providing better care." By the way, Avera has been a Most Wired hospital since the survey started 12 years ago.

Veline and senior IT leaders from Avera's five regions spend the better part of two months assessing their performance against the survey. They go through two to three rounds of verifying the results with a multidisciplinary team. "It goes beyond the survey and allows everyone to revisit some pretty important topics that impact our end users," he says, adding that the free benchmark report that comes as a perk for taking the survey helps to compare performance against both internal goals and with the field overall.

The Most Wired survey is one of two core documents Veline uses to map out the IT planning process; the other being Avera's overall strategic plan. The IT plan is divided along the lines of Most Wired—infrastructure, business and administration, clinical quality and safety, and care continuum (Avera adds sections on physician and employee engagement). The survey will take on even more importance as it becomes closer aligned with meaningful-use requirements.

The point is this: Most Wired isn't just about an award. It's a valuable tool that'll push your organization to achieve greater—and more effective—use of IT. Don't dally. The survey is open now, but closes March 15. You can access it at www.hhnmostwired.com.