Think you’ve got a heavy workload as CIO of your one- or two-hospital health system? Try 76 on for size. Of course, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, as Michael O’Rourke does have a bevy of regional CIOs and other support staff reporting up to him, but that doesn’t mean his post is without its challenges. To learn more about what it takes to make one of the nation’s largest health systems run, healthsystemCIO.com recently caught up with the Colorado-based CIO.
- Thoughts on Stage 2 MU
- Retaining a personal life while overseeing 76 hospitals
- Grasping the golden opportunity
- O’Rourke’s CHI journey so far
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I am so excited. Because I’ve been doing this about 25 years, and the vision of having clinical information — having analytics to manage population health and population diseases and chronic diseases — has been sort of a goal that we have worked toward for so many years and now it’s here.
We’re at a place in the healthcare industry right now in IT which is sort of the culmination of everything we have worked for. So anyone who’s been in this business long enough, for them to say ‘This is too much. This is too hard’ — boy, you just missed the best opportunity.
Most of the people who work with me do work hard, and they work long hours. When they say ‘I want to take a vacation,’ we say leave the cell phone, leave the laptop. Go. Decompress. Get away from it and then come back and be energized again.
People said, ‘These are hard decisions, it’s sort of tough love. But it’s the right thing to do and we need to move the organization that way.’ And I think at the end of the day, there was a level of credibility and respect that exchanged between myself and many of my peers.
Guerra: I want to get your thoughts on Stage 2 of Meaningful Use. How did you feel about what they came out with?
O’Rourke: I think we were expecting the solution they came out with. Again, as you had asked me before, we had a lot of conversations with folks around Stage 2 input. I think most everyone sees the writing on the wall. They see where preparation of the foundational products — just the basic reporting of Stage 1 — getting into much more of the core information in Stage 2. I think everybody understands this is where it’s going and Stage 3 is going to be more onerous and more difficult. But this is all the value proposition that was expected from putting electronic health records in. So I don’t think there weren’t any surprises or concerns.
Guerra: Yeah, I hear you. Before I let you go, I want to talk a little bit about work-life balance and these types of issues. I speak to CIOs, some are running one hospital or two hospitals and they talk about being overwhelmed. You’ve got 77, so I would imagine you could work every moment of the day and have an ulcer and be set up for a heart attack and all that kind of stuff. But you sound great.
O’Rourke: Oh, so you’ve seen my medical record, have you?
Guerra: Yeah, but you sound great. You sound relaxed. You sound calm. You don’t sound like, ‘I have to get off the phone because I have a million things to do.’ So how do you do that? How do you set that up? Do you have rules where you say, I’m going to work until 5, 6, or 7 o’clock and then I’m going to shut it off and I’m going to spend time with my family? How do you do it?
O’Rourke: Meds? No. You know, I think folks who are in this business who are at the CIO level of wherever they’re at, they love what they do. Personally, I love the business I’m in. I am so excited. Because I’ve been doing this about 25 years, and the vision of having clinical information — having analytics to manage population health and population diseases and chronic diseases — has been sort of a goal that we have worked toward for so many years and now it’s here.
Yeah there are long hours, and it’s hard. But you know, you have to just keep looking at the goal and you take one inch at a time and you just keep going that one inch at a time. So as long as you keep making progress, it’s sort of self-fulfilling; you get energized by it. There are days when you get up in the morning and say, ‘boy, I didn’t know I signed up for this.’ But overall, Anthony, I think it’s like any other business — if you don’t have that passion and you don’t have that drive, you probably need to find another business to be in. And I always tell my folks, too. I say the day I get up and I say I don’t want to do this anymore, I’ll stop doing it.
O’Rourke: But really, we’re at a place in the healthcare industry right now in IT which is sort of the culmination of everything we have worked for. So anyone who’s been in this business long enough, for them to say ‘This is too much. This is too hard’ — boy, you just missed the best opportunity when we get to put all this stuff in place.
So I live off that. And there is balance, you know. Sometimes you sacrifice some personal life and you have to have a mate and a spouse and family who support that and understand it. If you don’t, you just have to sort of step back a bit. And most of the people who work with me do work hard and they work long hours. When they say ‘I want to take a vacation,’ we say leave the cell phone, leave the laptop. Go. Decompress. Get away from it and then come back and be energized again. I think most of my colleagues feel the same way.
Guerra: That’s a great point that really resonates with an interview I had the other day with a CIO who’d been in the business a long time. She said, ‘I’ve been chasing this EHR vision for 12-15 years and now it’s here.’ So the people that you said have been at it for a long time see this as, yeah, it’s a lot of work but this is what we’ve all worked for.
O’Rourke: That’s right. This is the point where you don’t want to step off. You want to be here.
O’Rourke: It is fun. It’s a great time. It’s challenging for the whole industry, but I think overall, this is the right way for the way we’re going in healthcare itself, with reform, with putting these products in place, with opening up access for folks to get healthcare. It’s all good.
Guerra: As a final question, I know that you’ve been there about three and a half years and you started as interim. I read an interview you did with Kate Gamble in 2009 when she was with Healthcare Informatics, and I was over there. And now she works with me as our managing editor over here. You always try and bring nice talent with you. But I read that interview and you talked in that interview about how you came in as interim because they wanted someone who was going to have to make some tough decisions and maybe burn some bridges and not have to stay around and deal with the consequences. But it worked out and you decided to stay because people bought into the credibility of what you were doing. Now we’re in September 2012, and you’ve been full-time. How has the journey been and what does the future look like for you for the next three years?
O’Rourke: The journey has been really good. When you began that conversation, I thought, ‘Oh, he’s going to say I came here to do this work, burn bridges, and leave.’ And then how do I answer why am I still here? But I think at the end of the day, what happened realistically, just to touch point on that, was people said, ‘These are hard decisions, it’s sort of tough love. But it’s the right thing to do and we need to move the organization that way.’ And I think at the end of the day, there was a level of credibility and respect that exchanged between myself and many of my peers.
So the journey has continued. I would say from that standpoint, there were a lot of changes. They were tough, but the changes were dramatic and really helped the organization. As the changes to make improvements get smaller and smaller, they’re maybe a little more difficult to do. We still have a lot of change, obviously. But I think sort of the ‘march to the sea’ position that I had to take is long gone. The relationships are there and the trust is there, so it makes moving things forward much easier than it was three years ago. And for me, I have a commitment to help this organization get the electronic health record in, get ICD-10 installed, get them into a position where they will be strong with accountable care organizations and population management. Our vision; our road map takes us to 2015. When that is done, then I’ll probably say, ‘What’s left for Michael O’Rourke?’ And hopefully with CHI, probably not a lot. They will be in a very strong place IT-wise, and then we’ll see what happens from there.
Guerra: Then you’ll go skiing.
O’Rourke: Yeah, that’s right. Skiing, swimming, and all that good stuff.
Guerra: Michael, I’m going to let you go. Thank you so much for your time today. I hope we get to talk again soon.
O’Rourke: Very good. Nice to talk to you, Anthony.
Guerra: Take care.