When you’re the new CIO, the first 90 days offer a unique opportunity to get to know an organization and help determine the strategic direction. What often happens, though, is you end up feeling like you’re behind, “even though you’re moving fast,” says Tanya Arthur, who took on the CIO role at Summa Health this past January. But no matter how much time it takes, it’s vital to observe, listen, and immerse yourself in the community.
In this interview, Arthur talks about her biggest priorities, including leading the Epic implementation (which is a shared instance with Mercy Health), establishing an IT governance structure, and strengthening the building blocks of population health. She also discusses what appealed to her about Summa, how she hopes to leverage her past experience with Catholic Health Initiatives to improve vendor management, and what she likes most about her team.
- “Connectivity is a real possibility.”
- Getting out of silos – “There are systemic changes that need to happen.”
Her approach as the new CIO: Observe, listen, understand
- Focus on vendor management
- The opportunity Summa offered to “use the skills & abilities I’ve developed in a meaningful way”
- Her team: “They get the connection between what they do & what that means to care delivery”
When you have that much of a footprint across an industry, connectivity is a real possibility in a way that doesn’t break the bank or create such complexity that it’s impossible to manage.
On the surface, these seem like easy problems to solve, but I think there are some very systemic changes that need to happen in the healthcare industry around workflow and the design of care delivery before some of those things will change.
It feels like you’re moving really fast, and yet you’re still behind. You see so many things you can focus on and so many opportunities, and you really want to deliver value as quickly as possible. And so you feel the clock ticking.
When it comes to vendor management, people tend to think about the operational aspects, such as contract negotiation. That’s the only the beginning.
Gamble: You talked the need to start thinking more about consumer engagement and giving patients the experience they want. What are some of the challenges from the health system perspective?
Arthur: If you look at industries like retail, they’re a lot more mature in the technology space. I think healthcare is challenged by the competitive landscape of the vendor community. A lot of the systems are proprietary, closed systems. It’s only recently that interoperability and integration have become a focus, and we have a long way to go. The focus has to be on integrated systems such as Epic, which is part of the reason that Summa Health and others have gone that route. I believe about 67 percent of all healthcare providers are on Epic. When you have that much of a footprint across an industry, connectivity is a real possibility in a way that doesn’t break the bank or create such complexity that it’s impossible to manage.
Gamble: Right. And it’s true that other industries are more mature, but they don’t have to deal with the same complexities as healthcare does.
Arthur: Absolutely. The entrepreneurs and folks out in Silicon Valley are finding that out, and so a lot of them are focused on niche applications and mobile solutions to address that. But I’ve been in healthcare a really long time, and quite frankly, it surprises me that in 2018 we’re still having conversations about why we have to ask the patients the same information over and over again, and we’re still talking about the lack of clarity with discharge instructions and communication between physicians.
On the surface, these seem like easy problems to solve, but I think there are some very systemic changes that need to happen in the healthcare industry around workflow and the design of care delivery before some of those things will change. Despite a lot of the conversations you hear about patient engagement and care continuity of care and patient-centered care, most healthcare delivery organizations are still focused on what’s best for individual departments and physicians, as opposed to the consumer experience. It’s complex.
Gamble: It is. Now, you’ve been with the organization since the beginning of this year. Can you talk about how you approached the role of being the new CIO, and how you got to know the organization as well as your team?
Arthur: My approach is really around observation — listening, understanding the history, and really immersing myself in the community. I started with a high-level plan of the things I want to accomplish in the first 90 days, which included connecting with other community leaders both in the healthcare space and outside of it. Because Summa Health is a population management company, I knew it was important to reach out to organizations like the United Way and the Akron City Council, as well as various community providers across the organization, and universities, which I believe have a lot to contribute.
My priority was to get to know my team, understand what are the most critical things, and then do my own assessment of where things stand. Now I’m at a point where I’m delivering observations to the executive leadership team about where opportunities exist to better leverage technology to grow the organization. Things like governance, analytics, and having a very clear and intentional virtual health strategy have been part of that focus.
Gamble: So it’s been a busy first few months?
Arthur: Very busy. The funny thing is, it feels like you’re moving really fast, and yet you’re still behind. You see so many things you can focus on and so many opportunities, and you really want to deliver value as quickly as possible. And so you feel the clock ticking.
Gamble: I can imagine. Prior to Summa, you spent several years with Catholic Health Initiatives, starting as regional CIO then working your way up to a senior leadership role as VP of business relationship and IT portfolio management. How have you been able to draw from the experience of being at such a large organization?
Arthur: It was a great experience. One of the things I was responsible for at Catholic Health Initiatives was vendor management, and so I’d get a lot of feedback from vendors. They’d always remark that CHI is so complex and so large, and I’d just say, ‘Okay, let’s talk about what solutions you have for us.’
We always felt like we were behind at Catholic Health Initiatives, but having talked with other CIOs in the area, I don’t think that was the case. When I was there, I had the opportunity to experience a lot of different things in terms of operational excellence, strategic development, creating a vendor management organization, and dealing with a number of markets. As you can imagine, with a hundred hospitals, you get exposure to all types of scenarios and all types of competitive landscapes. The experience I had leading the strategic planning for all of those organizations has helped me move pretty quickly here at Summa in terms of observing where we should go and what we should do both operationally and strategically.
Gamble: I’m glad you brought up vendor management, because that seems to be an area where a lot of people run into challenges. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, do you have any best practices you can offer in terms of building a solid vendor relationship?
Arthur: Absolutely. Having developed the vendor management program from scratch at Catholic Health Initiatives, it’s critical to establish a solid foundation, and that includes relationship management. Oftentimes when it comes to vendor management, people tend to think about the operational aspects, such as contract negotiation. That’s the only the beginning. You have to have the core foundations and disciplines around contract negotiations and management, but the real benefit and value comes after that. And that is managing the relationship and performance, understanding who your strategic vendors are and who your commodity vendors are, and managing them accordingly. One thing I will be doing here is establishing vendor management discipline and more of a strategic vendor management approach.
Gamble: So the real work starts after the papers are signed?
Arthur: It does. And I think the people at Summa as well as our vendors are excited about what comes next. As part of my 90-day-plan, I identified the vendors that are going to be strategic for us, and have started conversations about my expectations of developing a vendor management program, and what that means to them. And so far, the responses have been positive. In fact, a number of them have indicated that this is the type of relationship they’ve wanted to have with Summa for quite some time. I look forward to it. I just wish I had 48 hours in a way.
Gamble: I’m sure. The last thing I wanted to ask is what drew you to this particular organization?
Arthur: A couple of things. In the conversations I with the leadership team during the first interview, I felt a real connection to them. But it wasn’t just that; it’s the fact that Summa Health is a pillar in the community and is focused on population health. That’s exciting to me.
Most of my career has been in healthcare, but I also spent about six years in the insurance industry. I felt this was a great opportunity to take advantage of the skills and abilities I’ve developed over the years in a very meaningful way. Summa has a health plan and an ACO, as well as traditional acute and ambulatory services. It’s a great blend, and it felt like next step for me.
Gamble: And you said you clicked with the team right away as well?
Arthur: Yes, definitely. One thing that’s really important to me is building a great team. There are, of course, gaps we’ll need to fill in terms of skills and abilities, particularly as we look to the future. But one thing I noticed right away — and you don’t always see this when you come to a new organization — is the passion for care delivery, and how deeply that’s ingrained in the IT team. They’re very dedicated to the organization and the consumers, and they understand the connection between what they do and what that means to care delivery. That was encouraging to see.
Gamble: Sure. Well, it’s been so interesting to learn about your first few months with Summa Health. I’d definitely like to catch up down the road and see how things are going.
Arthur: I’d like that. Thank you.