Children’s Medical Center: Pamela Arora, Vice President and Chief Information Officer

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One healthcare role that has evolved tremendously in recent decades is that of the information technologist or information systems manager. It’s no longer just about computers, but about networks of systems that carry patient data and connect sensitive medical instruments and testing devices to physicians even in hospitals where the tests themselves are not being taken.

The IT component of Children’s Medical Center, with hospitals in Dallas and Plano, Texas, is an excellent example of that as the whole organization works to make life better for children with approximately 360,000 patient visits per year. The organization also has ambulatory and outpatient centers. It is the seventh largest pediatric hospital in the United States.

Technology as a Tool of Efficiency

“The role of technology is focused on making life better for children with tools that allow the organization to be more efficient and to deliver safer care,” says Pamela Arora, Vice President and Chief Information Officer. “When you also layer on our affiliation with UT Southwestern as a teaching hospital, we’re raising the knowledge level in the industry.”

In recent years, Children’s has invested $65 million of capital in information technology. They transitioned from a Cerner EMR platform to an Epic platform. The new medical record was employed across all ambulatory and outpatient settings, as well as specialty care and primary care facilities. “It is giving our organization returns as far as efficiency,” says Arora. “Also, it is allowing us to scale [our services] so that we can reach more children.”

By adding the EMR to their ambulatory and specialty clinics, for instance, a medical record is more likely to follow the patient. Because the entire organization is linked, what happens at each location is documented in a way that it is easily accessible the next time that child enters the healthcare setting, even if they are there for a different purpose.

The organization purposely selected the platform being used by their partner hospitals in order to allow for deeper sharing. “When a resident or a doctor is working in these multiple environments, they can deliver safer care because it’s a familiar platform to them. We’re using like standards across three different entities that are separate organizations, but are joined in wanting to make care better for the community,” says Arora.

It is not uncommon, for instance, for a child to be getting care at Parkland Hospital, one of Children’s community partners, but for that child to be getting additional services, such as MRI scans, at Children’s. The new EMR allows the information to easily flow between hospitals. All of this results in safer care because it is informed care. “If someone goes into the emergency department, you want to know about their allergies and this might not be noted when they come in unconscious. You want caregivers to be aware. We’ve laid the groundwork by developing standards across our campus for health information sharing,” says Arora.

Technology for the Patient as well as for the Patient’s Care

Helping physicians to better serve patients is not the limit of technology, however. In one application, the organization is focusing on the online experience of children and their families. “We have private, social network solutions that provide a virtual support group for patients and families … We see that as helping serve, making lives better for children in this community because it’s connecting parents with parents and other experts relative to the unique needs that their child has. Technology not only needs to be brought to our organization as a tool, it needs to be opened up to patients and families,” says Arora.

Keys to Successful Growth of Technology in Hospitals

“I think one of the most critical aspects in our success with technology is getting engagement from the organization,” says Arora. “It’s not enough to put in the EMR, we need to have key physician and other clinical champions across the organization that are really promoting its utility and, when there are issues, highlighting the direction that needs to be taken.”

Children’s began with appointed department leaders—the chief nursing officer, head of surgery, vice president of quality, and chief medical officer, among others—who met weekly to discuss their technology needs and progress. “When you bring together a group like that and you are working through the decisions the organization needs to make around standardization, you have the champions in the room when the tough decisions need to be made. They’re going back to the organization and helping us on communication needs and training. Ultimately, they are owning the electronic medical health record,” says Arora. “One of the key aspects and critical success factors is that everyone, the clinical as well as the billing folks using the system, feel it is their system. It is not the system [belonging to] the IT department.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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