MaineHealth: Dr. Barry Blumenfeld, Chief Information Officer

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It used to be that hospital IT personnel sat at the back of the boardroom during meetings and were called on as needed, but had limited involvement in the overall planning of the hospital. As Dr. Barry Blumenfeld, chief information officer at MaineHealth, jokingly described it, they were the guys running around with screwdrivers and wearing strong glasses.

That stereotype is rapidly changing, though, as IT becomes the key to the success of healthcare institutions.

MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated delivery system whose member hospitals and affiliate groups are spread throughout much of Maine, is no exception in this regard.

Supporting the delivery of care

Dr. Blumenfeld describes his role as CIO succinctly. He is there to make sure that IS supports MaineHealth’s business and vision of delivering care. Very often, this means bridging the gap between technology and business.

“Again and again, the problem is that IS over the years has been viewed as a technology infrastructure, not an enabler of business strategies,” Dr. Blumenfeld said. “At times, it is even a driver of business strategies.”

Of course, this tightrope act plays out in a myriad of ways. For one, IS must ensure that MaineHealth has the necessary infrastructure in place as the organization moves closer and closer to ACO and patient-centered homes. IS must also ensure that clinicians are able to connect and collaborate with each other as they deliver care in the most efficient manner.

It also means that IS must empower and support consumers by having a portal strategy, and it includes examining the systems MaineHealth already has and evaluating whether substantive improvements in quality need to be made, especially in areas that are stymied and have difficulty making headway with changing technology.

But IS has another function, according to Dr. Blumenfeld. That function is to explain to people why a technology-oriented project isn’t solely an IS project.

“There’s the tendency that whenever we make decisions, for instance, to implement an electronic health record, to make that an IS project when in fact, it won’t be successful without the direct guidance and oversight of our clinical and operational leaders,” he explained.

Finally, IS is charged with the complex matter of “just keeping up.”

“Everyone talks about the costs of healthcare, and it is a cost-constrained industry,” Dr. Blumenfeld said. “And yet there are ever-escalating demands around things like security and privacy and our ability to catch and preserve information and the need to incorporate technology operations, whether using iPads or iPhones, for connectivity. So there are many technology demands in a very cost-constrained environment.”

Drivers of healthcare IT

Not only is accountable care driving healthcare IT, but Dr. Blumenfeld said general payment reform is also pushing their resources, especially in a state like Maine where the population is rapidly aging and chronic diseases are prevalent. IT is constantly looking at ways to deal in a cost-effective manner with the medical needs of a homebound population that may see multiple providers.

Dr. Blumenfeld lists medical research and academia as other drivers in IT, especially as they deal with genomic information in medical records and how best to communicate patient-registry information throughout the system.

There is also a greater push, he said, toward what he calls “business-intelligence work” or performing complex analytics on MaineHealth’s own data to evaluate how the organization is managing and impacting quality and costs.

Getting them to say “yes”

As Dr. Blumenfeld looks at his career, which started out on the physician side of the aisle, he pinpoints one achievement of which he is most proud—getting the MaineHealth leadership team to say yes to implementing a Shared Health Records system across all of their member hospitals and affiliate groups, an investment that shot upwards of $90 million.

For a system that is so big and is barely centralized and is comprised of disparate parts, he pointed out, integrating systems across the entire IDN (integrated delivery network) can be a challenging task.

“I feel really proud of selling the business proposition that was absolutely critical for us to take our hodgepodge of systems and multiple vendors and begin to forge a much more connected and much more integrated system than we had in the past,” he said. “The changes in our software systems are affecting the entire healthcare system far beyond IS.”

With this accomplishment, Dr. Blumenfeld also sees his role as expanding beyond IS and into a more strategic function at the business table. In fact, he strongly urges aspiring CIOs to be more than just a “good gearhead.”

“There are a lot of guys out there that want to be CIOs and they know everything about switchers and routers, but they don’t know much about clinical process or business process,” he said. “They don’t know much about why it’s so important to do things a certain way in clinical situations.”

He advises young professionals to develop their business skills alongside their technical skills, making sure they understand concepts like accountable care, the mysteries of payment reform, and the ways in which clinicians interact on the floor and in operating rooms.

“I think it’s important for them to become much more knowledgeable on business processes, not necessarily to view themselves as a technical resource,” he stated. “It does not hurt in any way to know all of the vagaries of information technology, but as you move towards being a CIO, it’s not a set of skills that you typically use. Instead, I think there is a move towards CIOs having greater healthcare or clinical insight.”

Dr. Blumenfeld pointed out that there are more physician CIOs than ever before.

“It’s really helpful to have a fair amount of insight into the way healthcare is delivered.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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