When Dee Emon was promoted to the CIO role at Wake Forest Baptist Health in 2014, it was the first time she held that particular title — but she was no stranger to IT. In fact, Emon — a nurse by training — had spent the past decade with “one foot on each side of the fence.” As a result, she was able to bring to the CIO role an understanding of IT’s role in supporting patient care, something she’s always worked hard to convey to her team. In this interview, Emon talks about the toughest and most rewarding parts of being a CIO, how she has benefited from her experience in quality and performance improvement, and the work her team is doing with patient engagement and population health. She discusses the importance of building a strong network, how she has made cybersecurity education a priority, and what it’s like to work with Chad Eckes.
- A “non-traditional CIO” with 1 foot in IT, 1 in nursing
- From CCIO to CIO
- Helping IT understand “how we support patient care”
- Cybersecurity education from the FBI — “It really does help ensure we’re minimizing our risks.”
- Background in quality & performance improvement
- “We’re seeing more and more nurses gravitate to IT.”
- Moving the needle
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The biggest learning opportunities I’ve had coming into the department full-time, at a time where cybersecurity is so imperative, is building a stronger background in IT security. That’s been a bit of a challenge and a growth opportunity for me.
As technology continues to be more and more relied on in the healthcare space, it’s become imperative to continue to tie what the IT employees do every day into patient care.
It’s a balance of securing your perimeter yet making sure that you’re not so restrictive that you aren’t able to execute on the mission of the organization.
It’s great to have people that know how the work is done in the clinical or academic areas, who really can sit down and be that bridge between how nurses work in a certain environment, and interface that with the system to best leverage it to support efficient workflows.
When you look at how do you move the needle on quality performance or any type of process improvement, there are a lot of ways to leverage IT technologies to get people to do that in a standardized method, which makes it easy to really know whether or not you’re improving.
Gamble: Looking at your background, you’ve been in your current role for about two and a half years?
Emon: Yes, just about three years. I’ve been here since the spring of 2014.
Gamble: This was your first role really on the IT side, is that correct?
Emon: Yeah, it is actually. I’m a non-traditional CIO. I’m actually a nurse by background, but really started getting into the IT space back in 2004 when I did my first implementation of an EHR back in Wisconsin. Ever since that time, I’ve had one foot in the IT camp as I’ve been in my nursing leadership roles. I actually did the startup for an all-digital hospital in 2005, which gave me a very broad view of IT — and not just on the clinical informatics front, but really understanding more the hardware server database aspects with that hospital startup. And ever since then, because of my background, at every organization I’ve worked in I have been, by de facto, the person that was volunteered to help or be the business sponsor on IT implementations for new software solutions.
Also through that time, I’ve done a lot of work with really tying in how do we improve our quality metrics and patient experience, and do that through IT systems. As I’ve said, over the last 12 to 13 years, I’ve kind of had one foot on each side of the fence.
Back in 2014, I was recruited out to Wake Forest, initially as their chief clinical information officer, and then was shortly after that promoted into the CIO role. People often ask me, how is it running an IT department? Was it difficult to make that leap? Because of my history, it really wasn’t such a big stretch to be in the IT department, especially in a senior leadership position. I would have to say the biggest learning opportunities that I’ve had coming into the department full-time, at a time where cybersecurity is so imperative, is building a stronger background in IT security and security frameworks. That’s been a bit of a challenge and a growth opportunity for me. But the rest of the IT space, I’ve always felt very comfortable in, and I think one of the areas where I’ve brought the Wake team some better employee engagement is really in helping the IT department staff understand their role and how we provide and support patient care. And as technology continues to be more and more relied on in the healthcare space, it’s become imperative to continue to tie what the IT employees do every day into patient care.
Gamble: A couple of interesting things there. You talked about cybersecurity and trying to build that knowledge base. How did you do that? Are there certain people you’ve aligned with? What’s been your strategy there?
Emon: Interestingly enough, in my background, I actually worked as a Baldrige National examiner. The Baldrige Program is a national quality program that was born out of NIST, which is one of the federal governments that puts out guiding principles for cybersecurity frameworks. I did have some basic background in some of those models and frameworks. But by and large, what I have done over the last couple of years is really get closer into the professional security groups that are out there to really understand and start picking up more of the details on what are not just the leading security frameworks people are working under, but the technologies people are implementing that are really effective in helping reduce issues with things like ransomware.
We also are fortunate to have the cybersecurity division of the FBI in Charlotte, NC. We actually collaborate with them and have the opportunity to meet with them on a quarterly basis. They’ve really been a great partner for Wake Forest because of some of our intellectual property and the research we do here, to really help guide us and bump thoughts off of them regarding what are they seeing nationally and how we can best position to ensure that we are as safe as we can.
Gamble: That’s a great resource to have in your neck of the woods.
Emon: It really is. It’s scary when you hear everything that’s going on nationally and internationally in the cybersecurity world. We have to put a framework together to try to keep the bad people out, yet balance that with the fact that we’ve got to conduct business, and being a teaching facility, we need to be able to collaborate with our students and peers throughout the country and internationally. It’s really a balance of securing your perimeter yet making sure that you’re not so restrictive that you aren’t able to execute on the mission of the organization.
Gamble: Have you had anyone from the FBI come in and speak?
Emon: Absolutely. In fact, we had them here about four months ago and we actually will be bringing them in probably on an annual basis to do an update. Because we’re an academic medical center, we’ve got a great auditorium, and when we brought them in, we had about 350 people that were able to come in and listen to what is going on nationally and internationally in the cybersecurity landscape. The more we can do events like that and promote general awareness with our employees, it really does help us ensure that we are minimizing our risks.
Gamble: Now, looking at your background, obviously you have a lot of experience in nursing leadership, so that’s something where obviously you haven’t had to shore up as much, but I imagine you’re really able to leverage that experience in your current role.
Emon: Absolutely. We are seeing more and more that nurses are gravitating into IT departments, especially in the application areas. With systems like with Epic, it’s great to have people that know how the work is done in the clinical areas or in the academic areas, who really can sit down and be that bridge between how nurses work in a certain environment, and interface that with the system to best leverage it to support efficient workflows within the clinical areas. We’re fortunate. We use Epic all the way through to even our research and clinical trials areas. We rely on clinicians coming out of the clinical space and being embedded with our applications areas to really help us leverage those technologies.
Gamble: Right. Before you were at Wake Forest, you were with Cancer Treatment Centers of America, correct?
Emon: Yeah. I was actually the chief nurse and quality officer for their company which is a national enterprise. They have a regional facility in five locations throughout the US. Again, having that broader lens and understanding of how do you really leverage your IT systems to provide services on a large scale basis has helped me here at Wake Forest to strategically position and leverage some of the technologies they were using.
Gamble: That’s definitely a unique thing seeing a CIO with a quality officer background.
Emon: Yes. But when you really think about it, having a Emonp understanding of quality and driving performance improvement, and tying that into how we can do that systematically to make it easy for people to do the right thing and get things documented correctly upfront, really does help everyone hit the quality goals that they’re striving for. Sometimes when you look at how do you move the needle on quality performance or any type of process improvement, there are a lot of ways to leverage IT technologies to get people to do that in a standardized method, which makes it easy to really know whether or not you’re improving or have opportunities within a number of different areas both inside and outside of just quality measures themselves.