There are very few CIOs who call themselves “useless,” but that’s precisely the term used by Shafiq Rab of Hackensack University Medical Center, who says his top priority as CIO is “to make sure everybody else becomes useful.” In this interview, Rab talks about his eventful first year in the new role, during which he has focused on optimizing the Epic EMR, enhancing the infrastructure, getting predictive analytics into place, and most importantly, building relationships. He also discusses the work he’s done to obtain clinician buy-in — which involves creating “hoopla,” and talks about his plans for genomics, the technologies that are game-changers, the organization’s ACO work, and how he thinks the CIO role will evolve.
- The key to vendor relationships
- How to have happy staff
- “People want to understand gene sequencing, I want to understand human sequencing”
- “My job is to create leaders who are 100 times better than me”
- Imagining the CIO of the future
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The best thing about Epic is it can do anything for you, and the worst thing about Epic is it can do anything for you.
Just as people understand gene sequencing, I try to understand human sequencing. I call it emotional blackmail. What that really means is that I try to understand people and be there for them. You have to have that as a leader.
My job is to create leaders who are a hundred times better than me. That’s my job. Only then I have succeeded.
We’re trying to get to the information so we can make the right decisions — right information at the right time for the right person in the right format. And 80 to 90 percent of information technology data is an unstructured format.
Everybody is profiling you, whether it’s your doctor, your insurance company, or your banking company. Everybody’s profiling you with all kinds of data. So as CIOs, you have to know how to manage that data and present it in a usable format.
Guerra: It sounds like a key to a vendor relationship is not being afraid to speak your mind.
Rab: Absolutely. Epic is a great company. I know a lot of people there. They’re a great company. I always say, the best thing about Epic is it can do anything for you, and the worst thing about Epic is it can do anything for you. It’s just like driving a Lamborghini. The first time I learned how to drive I think I’m good with the Honda. I can’t drive a Lamborghini; I can only drive a Honda, and I know that.
Guerra: We’ve talked a lot and I’m going to let you go soon. We like to limit these to an hour. But I looked on your LinkedIn page and you talked about happy people and that you have to have happy staff. I read a couple of recommendations that were written on your LinkedIn profile and one was really striking to me. I want to read some of it. It’s from Jeremy Marut, is that how you say his name?
Rab: Jeremy Marut. He’s married and has two children, Adriana and Dominic.
Guerra: And he’s your director of enterprise architecture. So I just want to read a little bit of it because it’s so outstanding. And this is about you. It says, ‘While he is an extremely high-level visionary and motivational powerhouse, don’t believe for one second that he can’t build a SQL server with one hand and an Active Directory domain forest with the other, while monitoring an IP sniffer for packet loss.’
Rab: That’s true.
Guerra: The point is that you can walk the walk and you can get down into those technology weeds. So let me go on, and then you can react. This is just striking. He writes, ‘I’ve learned more about IT leadership and management in general in the last year than I have my whole career. I told him the first time I met him that I wanted his job and he has not let me forget it one day through lessons and coaching. He changes each and every no into a yes, calls it straight and does it right and puts an end to things. The best part is that I now really know and believe that I will one day have that job. I’ve been blessed to work with this man and am forever grateful for his mentorship. I can only hope everyone gets a chance to work with him one day. I’m certain it is not impossible for him to meet everyone on the planet before he’s done.’ So what really struck me in that was you have given this guy the confidence to know that he will be a CIO one day, which is his dream, because of how you’re getting him ready for that. That’s just amazing.
Rab: I love him. I did the same thing for John Arch, who is now the CIO at St. Mary’s Hospital. You have to connect with people, Anthony. These are great people. Jeremy Marut is a great developer and he knows his stuff. He has helped me a lot. And like I said, if you don’t know technology, you have to be honest with yourself. I’m technically very savvy; I know that. Before buying a cloud, I actually went to VMware and trained myself on VMware. But I’m a doctor too; I can push an IV.
I sat with Joe Tucci, the CEO of EMC, because I’m trying to understand where his head is. I sat with Pat [Gelsinger], who’s the head of VMware. But besides that, you need happy people, because everybody is unique and unprecedented. Every human being wants to be loved, liked, and appreciated. It’s very important to go to the core value as a human being, and then, just as people understand gene sequencing, I try to understand human sequencing. I call it emotional blackmail. What that really means is that I try to understand people and be there for them. You have to have that as a leader, or else you should not be a leader. You should go cut grass or do something else that makes you happy, hunt, fish, or whatever. But if you want to be a leader, my job is to create leaders who are a hundred times better than me. That’s my job. Only then I have succeeded, or else I’ve not succeeded.
Guerra: As a final question, let’s talk about the CIO of the future — and I’m going to complement you here, because you seem to be the model of I think what the position is. Everyone sees it evolving into that, which is someone’s who’s got the executive management ability, a good understanding of the medical situation or medicine, and a technology understanding. You need all of those three things, and you’ve got them all. Is the CIO going to continually evolve toward someone that has all those three things?
Rab: Yes, and I think not only three things. The fourth thing you have to add to that is somebody who understands predictive analytics. I’m telling you that after this EHR hoopla is gone, big data is what people are going to talk about. So I’m teaching myself Hadoop. Hadoop is how you unstructured data. Why am I teaching myself? I have no idea, but I thought maybe I should learn it. Because again, with all this stuff we’re doing, we’re trying to get to the information so we can make the right decisions — right information at the right time for the right person in the right format. And 80 to 90 percent of information technology data is an unstructured format, so we’re trying to get to that.
Also, there are two things I forgot to mention to you. One is about video and natural language processing. That’s coming to Hackensack. Our call center will no longer be on telephone, it will be on video call. When you call us, we can see you and you can see us, because that changes the dynamic. The future CIO needs to understand all this data that’s coming in — because the machines produce data, and all these biomedical improvements are producing data. They’re all producing data and everybody’s trying to do research. People are doing translational medicine. CIOs should have the three things that you mentioned, but the fourth thing that person has to have is an understanding of big data. If they don’t understand big data, it’ll be hard for them to get to the next level.
Guerra: And that’s not under the technology heading; that’s its own heading in your mind.
Rab: Absolutely, and I’ll give you an example. I came in here and I put in a cloud and cloud infrastructure. I put in a wireless infrastructure, and then I get mobile. Big deal. Why? And then we implemented Epic, which is an electronic health record. Big deal — what are we doing that for? Then we give the doctors a new protocol to take care of something. So what? What is all this for? All this is to better understand how we take care of diabetics who are of Indian origin. Because in diabetics who are of Indian origin, Actos works better than some other drug, or in a hospital somebody has orthostatic hypertension so just taking the blood pressure and sitting down, lying down, or standing will give a better effect.
So you see, that’s where you’re actually contributing to the healthcare of the individual. Because our consumers in the next generation — in three years — will be smarter than the guy who actually takes care of him, because he or she will know everything on the smart phone about themselves. They have read everything about Lyme disease that they need to, and they’ll come and challenge you. What are you going to do then if your healthcare worker is not educated enough? And that education comes with understanding of the research and the data and making use of it.
Also, the executives need that information. It’s a data-driven world that’s coming, and there’s too much, because the data is coming from everywhere. Because everybody is profiling you, whether it’s your doctor, whether it’s your insurance company, or whether it’s your banking company. Everybody’s profiling you with all kinds of data. So as CIOs, you have to know how to manage that data and present it in a usable format for your new consumers.
Guerra: Well, this has been an incredible interview. It was certainly outstanding, and I’ve enjoyed it very much. I think the readers and the listeners are really going to enjoy it, so I want to thank you so much for joining me today.
Rab: Brother, I thank you. You are a great man. Come on over sometime we’ll have lunch and talk nonsense.
Guerra: No question about it. I’ll follow up with you by email and we’ll get some lunch, but thank you again, and I’ll talk to you soon.
Rab: Thank you for the opportunity.
Guerra: Have a great day.