How and why did you decide to enter this career path?

Well, it actually just fell into my lap. Before I got into healthcare, I was in banking and finance. I met a gentleman in 2007 who was seeking a regional Vice President of Sales – someone he could groom and mentor to help learn the business. I took the position with his healthcare IT company working with payers, and I just fell in love with the industry. It’s intricate; there’s a lot of moving parts and pieces; there’s the financial aspect; there’s the patient and consumer aspect; there’s the care coordination aspect; there’s the quality aspect. And from there it’s just continued to give me additional opportunities. I’ve met some great people along the way, as well as great mentors who continue to provide support, insight and act as a “Big Brother” while continuing to help me learn and grow.

How do you think IT leadership roles have changed over time within the healthcare industry?

Back in 2007, IT was primarily responsible for supporting the day to day applications that supported financial, clinical and other 3rd party systems inside the health system or physician group.  Now, IT is being viewed through a different lens and is viewed as strategic partners and problem solvers to the counterparts on the operations, clinical financial and marketing sides of the business. Strategic IT roles continue to evolve, with the growing trend and organizational investment in chief medical informatics officers, chief nursing informatics officers, physician and nurse champions, and combining patient care with informatics. The importance of turning data into information requires tools and technology, which then requires these IT counterparts to be able to identify vendors in the market that can help solve the problems. Now, not only can we see individual benefits of the IT team, but also the strategic value that they bring to the entire organization.

How do common perceptions of healthcare differ from their reality?

As a patient, my perspective confirms what my day to day job is – that there’s inefficiencies within the healthcare delivery system with challenges sometimes including poor access to care, redundancy in tests, duplication in documentation, a lack of collaboration among care providers, lack of understanding patient statements and bills, and the concept that patients are transforming into consumers. Consumerism in healthcare is here to stay and patients have a choice. You can thank organizations like Amazon and Uber for helping transform the healthcare mindset.  However, I’m seeing that many of the leading organizations in healthcare have been tackling this hurdle. So, depending on my healthcare provider, my perception as a patient is somewhat accurate. I do think that high performing healthcare organizations are actually moving to improve upon all those areas.

The healthcare IT vendor landscape has many new players that are helping organizations solve some of the complexities and inefficiencies previously stated. The challenge for IT staff is to navigate the pros and cons and determine if their CORE EMR and Revenue Cycle systems vendor(s) have these tools in place and determine if they have been turned on and operational.

What is the importance of innovation within Healthcare IT and the need to continuous investment?

I think we have some really smart entrepreneurial talented IT professionals that have been able to create a niche for themselves inside of healthcare. When I go to HIMSS, both the state and national events, I typically gravitate towards the vendors that are doing some really cool things that relate to reporting and analytics, clinical quality outcomes, and even improving the financial performance of their customers. This includes both consulting firms and IT vendors.  There’s been this new blood of entrepreneurial thinking within healthcare IT, and the challenge is that some of the health systems will embrace this while others may not be ready for it.

Health systems speak of innovation but struggle to determine the best path forward in their on-going journey and evolution of how their current IT systems support a high-performing best in class healthcare delivery system. We have to think about how innovative the health system is in which we are working. Are they willing to make an investment in people, process, and technology in order to drive the operational efficiencies of the business? This must not be viewed as a cost, but as an investment in their whole infrastructure, system, and care delivery model. The maturity model of healthcare IT and innovation must align to the maturity model of the health system’s willingness to take on new ideas in order to solve problems that they’ve been struggling to solve for years. As we talk about the maturity model and some of our other tools and service lines, it’s important to note that some organizations we’re working with are way more advanced than others. In terms of innovation, these advancements involve operational redesign, technology, and the willingness to take on risk. What we must do is find a way to package all that together, so we create a good customer experience and an affordable healthcare system that drives outcome.

What IT trends have been most influential in the past? Which do you wish to learn more about in the future?

In the past recent years, this idea of immediate gratification and full customer convenience has really forced healthcare to look at consumerism a little bit more strategically. As we shift towards high deductible health plans and self-insurance, consumers take on more responsibility, and thus have a choice. It’s important for healthcare organizations to embrace that and prepare for the shift.

To help with this, we need to ask questions such as ‘Do these health systems have the technology to provide patients timely access to care? Do they provide alternative methods of care? Can I use my mobile or other technology to drive the patient experience and to drive results?’ So, I think that shift towards consumerism is huge and we’re going to have to continue to embrace it. People of all ages – Generation Y, Generation X, the baby boomers – have different paths in which they want to consume data and interact with providers. It’s our job to find a way to serve all these differing needs.

The other big trend that continues to drive is this business intelligence, reporting and analytics. In healthcare, we move towards an electronic medical record, the Epic’s, the Cerner’s of the world, to help have one patient record, one chart, which then improves revenue cycle performance and clinical documentation while also supporting quality outcomes, ACO’s, risked-based contracting – all that stuff. The issue is that we have all this data sitting inside our electronic medical record and we’re probably only using a fraction of it to inform operational strategies, revenue cycle strategies, patient access strategies, clinical strategies, growth and service line strategies, acquisition strategies of hospitals or physician groups, etc. I’ve been in this space for 10 years and that continues to be one of the top five issues for executives: consuming the data, interpreting it, and figuring out what the action plan is next. I believe that’s going to continue to be an issue as we encourage providers to document this information, so we can start to look at holistically, rather than piecemeal.

What are the biggest challenges in healthcare IT recruitment?

There’s two different angles to this.

The one angle is on the permanent side of our business. From a direct hire permanent placement perspective, healthcare organizations have to be a little bit more creative in hiring qualified, full-time resources. I say that because the pool is shrinking and the competition for these high-quality resources who have multiple certifications and a great deep technical skill set is growing, and many of them may not want to relocate to a certain city. The question here is ‘How do we provide them an opportunity to be a full-time employee virtually or a full-time employee where they have the ability to work remotely?’ because people aren’t willing to uproot their family but are interested in working for those organizations.

And so, that leads to the consulting side. There are a lot of very talented consultants who are burned out and ready to move into a full-time role that has job security and benefits. Travel and the constant need to find the next “gig” can get old. We are seeing CIOs start to think strategically about how they can create employment models that get highly skilled consultants off the road and into full-time roles. This approach does require organizational buy-in and close collaborating with your Human Resources team.

What advice would you give for someone pursuing a career in healthcare IT leadership?

Here are three simple steps you can follow to get your start in healthcare IT:

  1. Be a sponge – observe, listen, and learn.
  2. Get yourself a mentor (or two!) – someone who you can learn from, but also learn with.
  3. Jump in and get engaged! – participate in projects, contribute to committees, narrate your part in national chapters – anything that continues to strengthen your knowledge and your network.

As you continue your career, don’t take anything for granted. I think that’s an important concept. It’s something I learned on the soccer field both as a collegiate athlete and coach.You have to work hard and be a team player, but at the same token, you have to have some level of autonomy and independence. I think you also have to be a problem solver. Your clients, especially in a consulting space, are looking for you to provide industry insight, subject matter expertise, and serve as a trusted advisor for some things that may not necessarily be revenue generating. You have to remember that it’s not always about the deal. It’s about the relationships; showing those relationships that you’re knowledgeable about the market and proving to those individuals that you have a broad knowledge of what’s going on in the healthcare landscape, from both the payer perspective and the provider/vendor perspective.