When Ed Kopetsky took on the CIO role at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children’s Health, he was already quite familiar with the organization, having worked with leadership for several years to create a foundation for advanced technology. As CIO, one of his key priorities was to lead the transition to an integrated EHR platform.
It was done — and with flair. The organization successfully executed three big-bang, Epic go-lives in a period of four months, and just one year later earned HIMSS Stage 7 recognition, both in inpatient and outpatient. But if you ask Kopetsky, his familiarity with the organization wasn’t the key factor in expediting such a gargantuan task; it was his team.
In this interview, the CHIME-HIMSS John E. Gall Jr. CIO of the Year award recipient talks about how they’re working together to achieve the ultimate goal: advancing the care of pediatric patients. Kopetsky also discusses the growing role of analytics, the learning curve in going to a children’s hospital, how his mentors helped shape his career path, and attributes he believes are most important in future leaders.
[To read the first part of this interview, click here.]
Gamble: You mentioned that your previous CIO roles were with larger organizations. Was it a challenge to adjust to an organization that was not only smaller, but focused on pediatric patients?
Kopetsky: When I was making that decision, I sought advice from some of my advisors, Ivo Nelson and Betsy Hersher. I remember they said, ‘You’ve done the big stuff — go have some fun.’ I didn’t appreciate what they meant. But as I learned, children’s hospitals can figure out complexity. People might think they’re simple, but they’re not. We have patients coming from everywhere — not just our own network, and we have to partner with so many different organizations, both in receiving those patients and with follow-up care.
For me, it definitely was a learning experience. In 35-plus years, I’ve moved four times, and each move was a major learning experience. Every organization has a different culture. What I was able to do here is integrate all of those prior experiences, whether it was a faith-based organization, Sharp HealthCare, the government (I cut my teeth working in the VA), or growing a consulting practice on a national level.
We’ve applied a lot of those practices in unique ways. For example, instead of market leaders, I have service area leaders. Every area of the hospital and company is owned by an individual who must demonstrate knowledge in that area and look for opportunities. It’s a total partnership with the frontline of our business; I brought that here because of my experience in large organizations, as well as in consulting, where we were growing different markets.
At the end of the day, it’s all about expectation management and trust in relationships. I don’t care what part of a business you’re in — they have always been the two critical success factors. We’re now a nearly $2 billion organization — when I got here, we were around $600 million. There’s no way to achieve that type of growth without solid leadership and a deep team.
It’s also about being open to change. I feel that we’re on the cutting edge of change, and on the leading edge in terms of pediatric care and medicine. It’s a thrill every day to come into this type of capability and see what we’re accomplishing and what we can do.
Gamble: With things like service area leaders, is the goal to enable the staff to share in ownership, and help them grow as leaders?
Kopetsky: Absolutely. Leadership is about developing others. You reach a point in your career where you can’t scale anymore; that comes fairly quick. The award we received a few years ago (Best Hospital IT Department) was based on a survey of the staff; 95 percent of our staff responded. Why? Because they respect the leadership team and love the culture of teamwork we have in the department.
If we’re going to have trust and engagement, I can’t have any dichotomy on our principles. There can’t be any discrepancies there. That’s hard to maintain when you’re going through change and you’re bringing in new people. You can only do so well in selecting individuals — then, it becomes about executing. It’s an amazing challenge, but it’s been so rewarding.
A year ago, I had surgery, and before that, took time off for a family matter, and the place ran on its own. That’s because of the leadership team we have. We meet every week. We think together. To be honest, I don’t know any decision I’ve made myself since I’ve come here. The decisions are made by the team. These people have perspective. They have the trust of our partners. I have to include their view. And by doing that, by being participative like that, they learn how to lead. There are no patented answers in this business.
Gamble: You make an interesting point about how smoothly things ran when you were away. Is that the ultimate goal as a leader?
Kopetsky: It is. When we launched the Epic Project, there were 26 project managers at our kickoff meeting. We went around the room and everyone introduced themselves and talked about their role. When it was my turn, I said, ‘I’m the CIO here. My role is to keep it alive.’ They all stared at me, but honestly, that’s what it is. I have to sustain board confidence. I have to sustain executive team involvement and commitment. I have to make sure we’re recruiting at the right level and being successful in that — that’s really what a CIO does. I’m not the doer; I grease the skids, so to speak. I clear the roadway for others to take off.
Gamble: It’s been interesting to watch how the role has evolved during the last decade or so.
Kopetsky: It has. There’s a debate as to whether the role is going away; I don’t believe that at all. I think it’s evolving. As CIO, you’re basically an executive in charge of radical change. You’ve got to garner support from every corner of the business — and even outside of it. I’ve been able to do things here that are outside the CIO realm, and that’s indicative of what the role is becoming.
Gamble: There are other emerging roles in the C-suite, like chief digital officers and chief innovation officers, but they each serve a unique perspective.
Kopetsky: We’re at a tipping point of advancement for the whole industry, and I think we’re going to see massive improvement. I know that sounds very optimistic, but to be honest, I’m very optimistic right now. I think the pieces are put in place, the skills are out there, and support at the board and executive levels is there. Now we can start making real advances based on data and interoperability, and start moving the bar on patient care.
Gamble: And of course, all of this requires strong leadership. What are the key attributes when putting together a team? What do you look for in an individual?
Kopetsky: Integrity and authenticity — those are at the top. As a leader, you’re visible. People get nervous during tough times. They’ve got to be able to trust the leader, and everyone has to be on the same page. No one on my team can say anything different than what I’m saying, or the people we lead won’t believe in us.
I also think servant leadership qualities are important. In other words, I truly am here to help them succeed, whether it’s my leadership team, the entire IS staff, the executive team, or a clinician. Our role at Stanford Children’s is to provide the best and safest patient care; IS’ role is to be reliable and trustworthy and enable them to do that. We have all of our IS employees go on clinical rounds regularly so that they don’t lose sight of that.
It’s about being humble and being inquisitive — asking people to help understand the problem first. It’s amazing how people will rise when you do that. If someone believes they can contribute, they’re going to be 10 times more committed and motivated. That’s the culture we’ve built here. Every year, our engagement scores stack up really well against the national benchmark. Our IS department ranks in the 80-plus percentage nationwide.
It’s trust in leadership. That’s all. We’ve been through hard times, but when you’re honest and trusted, everybody will chime in and help. That’s what we have here. Despite being in a tough recruiting market, and being a non-profit organization, we have one of the lowest vacancy rates in our employment, and one of the highest retention rates I’ve ever seen. People want to work here.
Gamble: Right. Well, this has been great. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you. Thank you so much for your time, and congratulations again on the recognition for your team.
Kopetsky: Thank you, Kate.