The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: Phyllis Teater, MBA, Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice President for Health Sciences

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Phyllis Teater has been with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, central Ohio’s sole academic medical center, for more than two decades and currently serves as its chief information officer and associate vice president for health sciences.

Teater brings to the table a practical eye, uncanny focus and savvy, and common-sense insight on the issues and trends confronting CIOs on a daily basis. Her talents and leadership have contributed to Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center achieving the highest stage of HIMSS Analytics’ Stage 7. In fact, bringing Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center to the point of being completely paperless is one of her and her team’s greatest accomplishments.

In October 2011, over the course of three to six weeks, Teater and her team trained 14,000 people on the Epic Enterprise Intelligence platform. In one day, Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center was able to “go live” with every major and many minor revenue-cycle applications that a critical-care facility could have.

Her perspective and wisdom offers valuable insight for CIOs and IT personnel who are struggling with the perplexities of the U.S. healthcare system.

Relating to the executive and clinical teams

When it comes to the board room and contributing to the organization’s decision-making process, Teater considers a CIO’s role to have two dimensions.

The first dimension is technology-based. A CIO must be active in researching and presenting solutions that will advance the strategic vision of the medical center.  These solutions must be broad enough to cover everything from the help desk to a $100-million investment in electronic medical records.

The second dimension is relationship-based. A CIO must work with all of the operational departments at the organization so they can gain the broad perspective needed to bring solutions to the table. A CIO needs to listen to each department head, because most of them have been in healthcare long enough to have overseen or experienced the automation of some aspect of their department.

“I have been here 22 years and I am very fortunate to have a rich history of understanding a lot about all of the departments, because in 22 years all of them have undergone at least one system overhaul, if not four,” Teater observed.

Because she is a key member of the executive discussions, she is able to address departmental issues that may not have been initially considered.

Asking the right questions

When it comes to identifying IT trends, CIOs are routinely deluged with information from media, the government, and vendors. It can be hard to determine where strategic priorities should be placed.

Now that the Wexner Medical Center has achieved EMR integration, Teater is focusing much of her attention on mobility and the social tools that accompany it.

“It’s that whole side of the world that is progressing so fast that we are challenged even to keep up, let alone to try to get ahead and really plan out our own strategy to leverage and support it,” she said.

She sees a tremendous opportunity with many of the incoming caregivers who are young enough to be as attached to their phones as teenagers are. Their acclimation to smartphone technology is really changing the game, she said.

“We need to be able to provide solutions that enhance their productivity in the way that mobile phones enhance all of our productivity both personally and professionally,” she added.

Which questions, then, should CIOs be asking of themselves, their team, and the executive suite that will help them gain this leverage?

Teater listed several.

First, how do you take advantage of technological advances? How do you incorporate RFID into healthcare? How do you strategize building automation?

How can you develop the more infrastructure-based advances that have the ability to make patients’ lives more convenient, make an organization’s care more accessible, and make the patient’s journey through a system feel planned and less reactive?

How do you engage your organization in planning and implementing this trailblazing amount of change?

Finally, how do you manage the resource crunch that has come with the explosion of automation and information technology in healthcare?

“The demand is overwhelming to the point where the bad ideas nobody even talks about, and you can’t get to all the good ideas,” Teater said. “As they’re preparing for this future, all organizations need to spend a lot of time on their decision-making process around priorities. If you don’t have a strong process here, where you have involvement from your organizational leaders who can help you champion the right things to do, you will fail, because you will try to do them all, you’ll do none of them well, you’ll have everybody struggling to understand why you’re not doing their individual thing.”

She concluded, “You better have a tight process for thinking about how you deploy your limited resources on the very best things, especially when they’re all great ideas.”

Communicating ideas in unique ways

In the future, CIOs will be guided by this ability to lead, to motivate and empower staff, to build peer relationships, and to rally organizations around ideas, Teater said.

“I think that the days of a CIO that is more steeped in their technology abilities are gone,” she explained. “I think that there are CIOs who have good technical backgrounds who can be good leaders, but the characteristics of a strategic CIO who is really contributing to the organization move away from the technical skills and more to the soft skills.”

A CIO’s job description in the future will be about getting people to understand why they’re implementing a certain technology and what that technology brings to the table, she predicted.

“Without a good foundation in how you communicate ideas in unique ways to get people’s attention in the deluge of information that appears in every device and mailbox, an organization will flounder,” she warned. “It won’t understand what you’re doing.

“Communication is a huge piece of managing change.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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