Deaconess Health System: Todd Richardson, Chief Information Officer

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In November of 2009, Deaconess Health System went live with Epic as its platform for their electronic health record (EHR). This system is used in four hospitals and approximately 20 physician practices. Now the organization is focusing heavily on optimizing the EHR, looking at variations in how it is being used and working to standardize practices across the organization.

“Our focus is to build and move things forward with an intuitive approach,” says Todd Richardson, Chief Information Officer of Deaconess Health System. “In July of 2010 we achieved HIMSS Analytics Stage 6 certification and are now focusing on Stage 7 to be completely paperless.”

Building an Information Technology Component

As the project began, the organization didn’t have any dedicated resources focused in the area of clinical informatics. They put together a clinical information systems team and today the organization has about 80 full-time employees within the Information Systems department and about 30 full-time employees in Clinical Informatics. Initially the hospital relied heavily on consultants to fill specific areas of expertise while internal staff were developed. Now they are working toward replacing a lot of those positions with full-time equivalents on staff. This should help in cutting costs, as well as put the organization into a position to support the hospital’s information systems long-term.

“Being in more of a rural area, it can be a little more difficult to hire staff with the specific level of expertise we need,” says Richardson. “We focused a lot of effort in getting our staff trained and ‘Certified’ on the Epic systems as we prepared our build and readied for ‘Go Live’. We brought in a number of consultants to take over responsibility for supporting our ‘Legacy Systems’ while our staff focused on Epic.  We are now moving forward with the replacement of these consultants and getting back to a ‘Business As Usual’ approach to supporting the organization.

The Role of a Healthcare Chief Information Officer

Richardson sees the role of Chief Information Officer as having evolved quite a bit. “As we see technology become more invasive in our industry and throughout our facilities, we are being forced to come up with new and innovative ways of supporting the IT systems.  More and more we are asking users to take a first level of support in troubleshooting things from PC issues to providing end-user support for applications.  Without this sea-change in how we deal with technology in our workplace, the IT departments will need to continue to expand in numbers to provide the level of support that is required in today’s health system.  As the CIO, I find myself more involved in the fully understanding the issues from an Operations perspective and pushing our department to employ solutions that take into account the needs of the users.  We have to continue to push the technology to deliver efficient systems for our users and minimize the hurdles that can often be presented.”

In order to ease the burden on his technical call center, for instance, and meeting the needs of a 5,000 person organization, Richardson works to identify super users in all departments and getting them trained to answer some of the basic questions. “They are the first line of defense,” says Richardson. “It may be as simple as seeing that a mouse is unplugged or simply rebooting a device may resolve the issue.”

“I think my role as a CIO fundamentally changes as we bring these systems into our organization. It’s about continually educating the organization on the implications of such technology and what is it going to take to support it?   As these systems become more and more integrated, it becomes more about all of us working together as a team to understand the issues and bring about changes to the system in a very structured and methodical manner to avoid unwanted surprises.  It’s not us versus them…It’s truly we. Between my technical staff, the operational staff and the vendor—we have to come up with a solution.”

Richardson sees another responsibility to the role of CIO as looking at what’s lurking over the horizon and seeing how he can perhaps leverage new technology. “Things like the iPads and iPhones,” he says. “We need to get out and do the proof of concept. Understand what works and what doesn’t and be proactive in introducing it to our organization. We need to be the ones knowing what it can and can’t do and how far we can push it.  I want to be out there because they [the clinicians] are going to bring it in and want to use it…We’ve got to be prepared.”

“That being said, there is infrastructure to consider and costs that go along with it.  We’ve also got to look at the security side of new technology to make sure that we are doing the right things. Educating the organization on the implications of technology is a huge part of the job.”

Keys to Success

“I think the biggest key to being a successful CIO is really understanding and having a great relationship with my collegues on the operational side of our business,” says Richardson. “Our industry is healthcare, not technology. While we are the technology arm of our business, it’s not about us. It really is about the operations and the strategic direction of the organization as a whole,” Richardson says.

“We have to understand our operations from a healthcare perspective first,” he says. “Then let me build a technology plan to support that. We’re a support service, we’re not the starters. If you don’t have that customer service approach and understand where you fit in the organization, you’re doomed.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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