Columbus Regional Hospital: Diana Boyer, Vice President and Chief Information Officer

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Chief Information Officers at any hospital have an ever-increasing presence in today’s healthcare environment. As CIO and vice president of Columbus Regional Hospital in Indiana, Diana Boyer has faced daunting challenges over the past four years in order to get her hospital prepared for healthcare’s electronic future.

Columbus Regional Hospital is a 225-bed facility with emergency services, surgical services, a primary-stroke center, chest-pain center, lung center, heart center, cancer center, and other specialties. The hospital has been named to Thomson Reuters’ 100 Top Hospitals Award list.

Disaster of network proportions

In 2008, the hospital had just purchased a new data center and was just a few weeks away from moving all of the existing hardware out of the hospital’s basement when a devastating flood hit the region and flooded the entire basement of the hospital.

The flood caused $171 million in losses, including the data center, radiology, pharmacy, and food services. But the organization was committed to reopening as soon as possible. Executives worked in a house behind the hospital to determine what systems needed to come online first and assigned internal information technology staff to the job of restoring those systems.

“We had planning meetings every morning and talked about business priorities to determine what systems were needed first,” Boyer said. “We made a commitment to pay our employees during the closure, so we had the finance system back up within four days. We also didn’t have to contract out any IT services because we had retained all expertise internally.”

Within five months, the hospital reopened.

Implementing disaster-recovery solutions

Although Columbus Regional was in the midst of implementing a disaster-recovery plan when the flood hit, the disaster revealed many other areas where the hospital could implement safeguards. For example, power switches, custom-made for the hospital, had been previously located in the basement and were moved to their present location on the main floor.

Furthermore, Columbus now has two data centers, one off-site and one on the main floor of the hospital. The hospital also opted for IP phones in the recovery, which offer cheaper and quicker installation.

FEMA funding helped to hasten the reopening, and GE opened a plant to build switches for Columbus and another hospital in Iowa that had experienced a similar loss around the same time. Boyer said without GE making the effort, it could have taken a year to get new power switches.

Returning to business and moving forward

Now that the hospital is back to business, Columbus Regional is implementing a number of Lean Six Sigma and IT initiatives.

Before the flood, Columbus was budgeting to build a new patient tower that would have all private rooms, but with the immense loss, the hospital needed to get creative with its existing space. The hospital had been using Lean processes for some time and began a project to get more private rooms out of the existing space.

Lowering readmissions was one step in reducing the census, allowing the hospital to make 85 to 90 percent of the rooms single occupancy with the flexibility to increase that as the census changes.

Boyer said Lean has been a big push for the organization overall during the past few years and sprung from the encouragement of Cummins, a major employer in the area. Cummins had implemented Lean initiatives within its company and was interested in using Lean to reduce healthcare costs as well.

Columbus developed a Lean Six Sigma department to lead initiatives and has six black belts currently employed.

Boyer said every department has done a Lean process-improvement project that has helped make the transition to electronic medical records (EMRs) smoother. Columbus was on track to meet Meaningful-Use standards by 2010, but after the damage, the hospital decided to begin a new vendor-selection process. Columbus chose Cerner and is on track to meet Stage 1 Meaningful Use this fall and Stage 2 not long after.

Columbus has purchased the Cerner physician EMR software and will be offering it to private-practice physicians interested in joining with a shared product. The hospital is also looking at  databases to share information with physicians who use a different tool.

“When preparing for a new way to manage patients, we need the whole picture,” Boyer said. “Getting on the same database will do that. We also need to data-mine for those who don’t join us.”

Encouraging innovation and collaboration

With a background as a nurse, Boyer brings a patient-care and end-user perspective to IT initiatives.

“There is a huge appetite for technology right now,” she said. “You have to be able to pull the right people together and prioritize.”

One way the hospital is doing that is through its new Innovation Center that has taken over the restored basement. The area brings together multiple disciplines to help adopt best practices faster and inspire creative thinking.

Lean projects are brainstormed in the center, and there is a simulation lab to test out new processes or ideas. CPOE scripts will run through the simulation lab as the EMR implementation takes shape.

“The Innovation Center has a unique set up,” Boyer said. “It’s something we would not have had the space or ability to do if it weren’t for the flood.”

Which is, of course, one of many silver lining to the disaster.

-by Patricia Chaney

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