When Rhonda Jorden was asked to step into the interim CIO role at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences about 6 years ago, something happened that took her by surprise. “I liked it more than I thought I would,” said Jorden, who was able to see “the positive impact IT can play in patient care.” It was a lesson she took to heart when she took on the full-time role five years later. In this interview, Jorden talks about the major projects on her plate, including UAMS’ organization-wide Epic implementation, the building of a customized data warehouse, and the fine line leaders must walk when it comes to security. Jorden also discusses how UAMS is collaborating with local hospitals to improve care coordination and outcomes, how she’s leveraging her past experience in her current role, and what it was like to fill Dave Miller’s shoes.
- Partners for Healthy Arkansas
- Sharing best practices — “Nothing’s off the table”
- 23 years at UAMS
- Gaining experience with IT director roles
- CIO role: “It’s all about relationships.”
- IT’s role in patient care
- Filling Dave Miller’s shoes — “He made it a smooth transition.”
I had some really fortunate circumstances where I was able to learn and jump into multiple types of IT director roles in preparation for being the CIO.
The CIO role is all about relationships. You have to know a little bit about IT, but it’s really about the relationships and about being able to understand what people are talking about and what their business needs are, and then being able to execute on that vision.
What did surprise me is that at that time, I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this job,’ and then I was asked to be interim and I liked it more than I thought I would.
That’s the thing that hooked me, recognizing that I made a difference as an IT person and really did play a part in patient care, even though most people don’t think of IT in that way.
I can’t say we didn’t have issues, but in the scheme of things, our issues were minor. It could have gone a lot worse. We were able to get bills out the door, and we were able to see patients in a safe manner. I think if you ask anyone, they’d say our implementation was a success.
Gamble: As the CIO, what is your immediate focus in the next year or so?
Jorden: I think from an IT perspective, I’ve been very focused on transparency and a standardized project management methodology that we use across all IT projects, whether it’s for the research, or clinical, or academic mission. When you look at clinical analytics and big data, that’s a huge priority, both from a research perspective but also from a precision medicine perspective.
We will be implementing Epic for our six regional clinics throughout the state, as part of our expansion of UConnect. So that is another really large project. And then I guess the last thing I would say is UAMS has formally partnered with three other hospitals in the state, as well as an insurance provider, Blue Cross and Blue Shield. We call that initiative Partners for Healthy Arkansas. So it’s the University of Arkansas for Medical Science, Baptist Health, Washington Regional, which is hospital system in the Fayetteville area, and St. Bernard’s, which is a medical system in the northeast area of Arkansas. We have formed a partnership to work much more collaboratively to improve patient care in Arkansas.
Gamble: Are those organizations on different EHR systems for the most part?
Jorden: Baptist Health is on Epic, so we actively work together on ways that we can help each other. If we’ve got a module already installed, they’ll come see it. And if they’re doing something at Baptist that we’ve not done yet, then we’ll go there. So we definitely work collaboratively there. The other two hospitals are not on Epic, but there are other software applications we do share. It’s early in that partnership, but we’ll be investigating more ways to collaborate. And nothing’s off the table — whether it’s supply chain or a clinical practice, we’re looking for what are each other’s strengths and how do we leverage that. IT is a small component of that.
Gamble: And it’s not an organization that you have an affiliation with, just separate organizations sharing best practices.
Jorden: That is correct.
Gamble: And do you share patient data with any of those hospitals?
Jorden: We share patient data with Baptist already through the Epic Care everywhere. We’ve been doing that for quite some time, even prior to the partnership announcement. And then in the state of Arkansas, we have a state Health Information Exchange program through which we share data.
Gamble: So I know you said this partnership is still in the early stages. What are the next steps at this point for getting that off the ground?
Jorden: The operational group that meets on a regular basis are forming recommendations for the executive committee that sits over the Partners for Healthy Arkansas initiative; they’re really at the decision-making stage of what are going we’ll focus on as the top five or six projects.
Gamble: Okay. So looking at your career, you started as CIO at UAMS last fall?
Jorden: That’s correct.
Gamble: Before that, you were the CTO. I would imagine that’s a natural progression, but how have you found it to be?
Jorden: Well, maybe I should backtrack a little bit. I’ve been at UAMS for 23 years. When I came in, I was in entry-level custom software development. And so, I had the fortune to be able to shift within four or five years into management role. And because of the restructuring that was going on — not in IT but across the UAMS Clinical Enterprise — I was able to move into a role as a director over our patient systems group which was really access and revenue. I’ve actually been able to serve in IT director roles for patient access and revenue cycle, as well as our clinical support systems. I did all of that prior to becoming the CTO. At one point, I even had responsibility for our ERP team. I’ve really been privileged to work in a lot of areas of IT, and when I was asked to serve in the CTO role after we unexpectedly lost the person that headed that group, it was the next progression for me to grow into being the CIO to get that more technical-oriented background and experience. I had some really fortunate circumstances where I was able to learn and jump into multiple types of IT director roles in preparation for being the CIO.
Gamble: So having served not just as CTO role, but in those IT director roles, really helped prepare you for the CIO role.
Jorden: Yes. I had that application and software experience, which was big. I had never managed EMR teams, but there’s really not anything else in IT I haven’t managed at one point. Being in those director roles really helped me to build relationships with my customers, and it really gave me insight into project management and how different applications function. And then when I went to the technology side, it gave me that other view as well.
But the CIO role is all about relationships. You have to know a little bit about IT, but it’s really about the relationships and about being able to understand what people are talking about and what their business needs are, and then being able to execute on that vision.
Gamble: Is that something that you knew going into the CIO role?
Jorden: It was. I actually served as interim CIO for just over a year.
Gamble: When was that?
Jorden: It was in 2010, I believe, and I did it for about just over a year. So I learned what it was all about that point.
Gamble: And that gave you a little bit of a taste for the CIO role?
Jorden: It did. At that time, I didn’t get hired as the CIO, but we had chosen Epic and our CIO that had led us through the Epic implementation left.
Gamble: So when you went through that experience, were there things that surprised you about everything that the position entails?
Jorden: Yes, and no. I worked very closely with the former CIO, so I there wasn’t too much I didn’t know about what it was going to take to do the job. What did surprise me is that at that time, I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this job,’ and then I was asked to be interim and I liked it more than I thought I would. That was probably more surprising than anything.
Gamble: What did you like about it?
Jorden: I would say that being involved in so many different things, you really saw what a positive impact IT can play in helping the organization. And then also getting the opportunity to build some additional relationships with people and forming partnerships to make UAMS better — and beyond that, providing better healthcare services for the people that live in Arkansas. We really provide world-class healthcare with our oncology program, and I think that’s the thing that hooked me, recognizing that I made a difference as an IT person and really did play a part in patient care, even though most people don’t think of IT in that way.
Gamble: Now, you worked a good deal with Dave Miller before he left the CIO role. Did you ever contact him after he left to ask for guidance, or did you have a chance to transition into the role while he was still there? How did that play out?
Jorden: I did have the opportunity to transition into the role when he was there, and I definitely did contact him when he left. In fact, I still run into him still, and I still reach out to him. He’s visited a few times. If there’s anything I need, I can ask him and he’ll help. The fortunate thing was I was heavily involved as CTO in the Epic project, and so in his role as CIO, he worked closely with me and the other assistant vice chancellors that reported to him. We were all pretty engaged in what was going on and what the status of things was. Fortunately, he made it a fairly smooth transition.
Gamble: Right. Okay, so the last thing I just wanted to talk about is your extensive time with the organization. It’s something we see less and less of now, so what has made you stay?
Jorden: One thing is the fact that anytime I get a little bored with one thing, I get the opportunity to do something different. I’ve been kind of fortunate that way. Around 2010, I was actually very involved in our initiative with expanding telehealth throughout the state of Arkansas. UAMS received $102 million grant from BTOP, which is the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. I actually helped write a grant to expand and build a statewide health network which connected over 200 healthcare organizations and education institutions around the state.
As I said earlier, it’s feeling like you’re making a difference. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in projects like that, and if I ever think I should be looking for a job somewhere else, one of those new big projects comes along. Clearly Epic was one of those, and to get that opportunity to be part of that project was something I couldn’t pass up as well.
Gamble: I would imagine that with something like UConnect, you want to see the project through and see where else the organization can go now.
Jorden: Yeah. And when you start polling pulling others that have implemented Epic, probably very few installed more than 30 modules at one time. And I can’t say we didn’t have issues, but in the scheme of things, our issues were minor. It could have gone a lot worse. We were able to get bills out the door, and we were able to see patients in a safe manner. I think if you ask anyone, they’d say our implementation was a success.
Gamble: That’s not a small thing when you’re dealing with such a large complex implementation.
Jorden: It isn’t. And like any other institution, when we ask if we’ve done everything we want, configured everything we want, and does it work exactly like we want it to, the answer is no. But I think we recognize that’s an evolution and it will take time.
Gamble: Definitely. Well, we’ve certainly covered a lot, and I want to thank you for your time. This is some great information. I hope we can speak again down the road.
Jorden: That sounds great.