The past few years haven’t been easy for the IT staff at Wake Forest, but after putting their blood, sweat, and tears into becoming an integrated health system, it’s time to have some fun, according to Chad Eckes. Nine months into his tenure, the CIO is shifting the focus to optimization of the Epic system, and innovation, whether that means leveraging the latest technology or simply identifying new ways to engage with patients. In this interview, Eckes talks about the opportunity he saw at Wake Forest, the need for organizations to “get creative” when it comes to reducing costs, the next big projects on his plate, and how he keeps the ear of his staff.
- Fast-tracking Beaker in community hospitals
- Epic’s 2014 functionality — “It will simplify and enable new processes for us.”
- Cogito data warehouse
- A leader in ‘world 2’
- Faith Health — leveraging churches to improve population health
- 5 new innovations in 2015
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With all of our active work and clinically integrated networks starting to get involved with MSSP, we feel that this is needed functionality that will simplify and enable new processes for us.
The organization is focused on being a leader in what we call ‘world 2.’ We’re constantly working with our physicians and the community around us and other elements of this enterprise to impact our environment.
I think this is going to become a trend more and more across the country, and I’m very proud of our organization to be out in front of it and really leading this.
Putting my CIO hat on, there’s a lot of intriguing opportunity as we come up with new solutions that assist in our environment that we’re building from an ITS standpoint. We’re able to think in a much broader spectrum.
Gamble: With Beaker, you said it had been rolled out in the community hospitals but still needs to be rolled out in the main campus. Was that something that was done to do it on a smaller scale first, or did it just happen to work that way?
Eckes: It was more a case of, as the acquisitions of these hospitals were rolled into the overall medical center in our integrated health system, we needed to put out some of these ancillary tools. And quite honestly, with the ultimate path of rolling out Beaker in the long run across the board, it didn’t make sense to buy new licensing for a different system. So we fast-tracked the implication of Beaker at those sites, knowing that we would catch up the main campus later on.
Gamble: As far as the 2014 version of Epic, is there anything that you know is going to be a little more challenging there? What’s your strategy going into that?
Eckes: We’re really excited about the 2014 version for a couple key areas of functionality. Number one, Healthy Planet, which is Epic’s population health management functionality, becomes very robust in that version. With all of our active work and clinically integrated networks starting to get involved with MSSP, we feel that this is needed functionality that will simplify and enable new processes for us.
The secondary of functionality is that we’re excited about is Beacon, their oncology module. Beacon has received a lot of new functionality, especially around cancer staging. We believe that is going to be not only beneficial, but with radical redesigns and improvements, you see a whole new need for retraining, because our processes right now are designed around some of the missing functions in the tool. In the cancer center here, which is a very large portion of our business, we are planning for a larger change management process and training exercise.
One of the other areas we’re starting to move more aggressively with is the Cogito data warehouse that is imbedded with Epic. Historically, we’ve had our own enterprise data warehouse that is custom, and we haven’t rolled out Cogito yet. In the future, you’re going to see on our footprint that they sit side by side in our custom warehouse for much of the functionality that doesn’t exist in Cogito. We will also be using Epic’s Cogito for a couple of key reasons, the most important being that there are key functions that are dependent upon Cogito in the future, especially around population health management.
Gamble: It seems like population health management is definitely a huge focus of the organization. Is that really one of your bigger priorities?
Eckes: Yes, it is a key priority for us. It’s, quite honestly, an area that I’m very impressed with Wake Forest Baptist. The organization is focused on being a leader in what we call ‘world 2.’ We’re constantly working with our physicians and the community around us and other elements of this enterprise to impact our environment. And if you look at this area of North Carolina, I would struggle to find another area that is more perfect for truly owning the wellness of this population.
We have a couple unique things that are coming to market here. There’s an organization called Faith Health that is part of the Wake Forest Baptist. The leader of Faith Health has experience integrating churches in the general community into health management. What he’s found with his previous experience is there are certain things that a minister or pastor can say to individuals that may not be accepted as well coming from other folks — friends, family, and so forth. We’re signing churches up to be another outlet for managing a person’s wellness and their care.
And that’s just one venue that we’re integrating in with the community at large. It really is an exciting opportunity for us to be able to identify negative wellness trends and help educate our populations and take remediation activities and triage the situation before people become sick and start dealing with chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. And then for the folks that are dealing with these diseases, to be able to offer more regular care and understand when folks need assistance in terms of reminders. I think this is going to become a trend more and more across the country, and I’m very proud of our organization to be out in front of it and really leading this.
Gamble: What you’re doing with the churches seems to me like a really good example of thinking outside of the box and getting out of the traditional ways that we tend to look at wellness by forming these other partnerships. There are people who are very much involved in the church, and to be able to tap that resource seems like a smart way to go.
Eckes: Absolutely, and the organization is also thinking very innovatively on other venues for providing high quality care at a lesser cost and improved intervention activities — things like being able to do telemedicine visits. We’re already doing that here, and that’s an opportunity to take care of patients for a limited set of disease types. If you can do those interventions quickly, easily for the patient, and at a low cost, it’s helping everyone out.
Gamble: I did want to talk about Wake Forest Innovations and get some background information about what that is and how that’s helping the organization, and the unique opportunities that provides for a CIO.
Eckes: There are a number of things that are occurring within that group, everything from regeneration of organs and various research going on the academic side of the world, to new products that are innovated over there. But putting my CIO hat on, there’s a lot of intriguing opportunity as we come up with new solutions that assist in our environment that we’re building from an ITS standpoint. We’re able to think in a much broader spectrum to build commercial solutions to help others as well.
Gamble: Is that something that’s been in place for a while or is this a fairly new initiative?
Eckes: Wake Forest Innovations has been in place for quite a while; the active IT involvement is something relatively newer. Like many shops, the IT organization has been focused heavily on putting in Epic and newer ERP systems and just keeping up with the day-to-day activities. One of the new focuses on our strategic plan is to take a percentage of the IT organization and focus them on innovation and thinking strategically and outside the box.
So for example, in fiscal year 2015, which started July 1 for us, we have committed ourselves to bringing five new innovations to the table and having them implemented in production. What we define as an innovation here is either it’s brand new — something that has never been done before — and we’ll build it and implement it and create a market for it, or it’s a technology that exists but is on the very early stages of the typical Gartner Hype Cycle. So we’ll be a very early adopter of that technology, integrating it in for the betterment of our population.