Like many organizations located near New Orleans, East Jefferson General Hospital faced an enormous test five years ago when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the area. Thanks to a dedicated staff, the 450-bed hospital was able to remain open throughout the ordeal, so it made sense that Jim Burton’s first priority as CIO was to ensure that in the event of another disaster, patient records would always be available. Now, Burton is taking it a step further and working to create an environment in which data isn’t just available; it’s robust and useful for clinicians.
- ICD-10 prep — “It’s changing the way people look at things”
- Remote hosting with Cerner
- Dimensional Insight to “tap into the knowledge”
- From helpless to helpful desk
- The benefits of a diverse background
- “I consider IT like a shark — if you stop, you die”
- Maintaining a sound work/life balance
- From Boston to the bayou
I think that’s a tool that once we have it fully engaged… people will be able to tap into the knowledge so they’re not dependent on the IT staff. It really gives people autonomy and independence to look at information, because sometimes you have an idea and you want to see how it plays out, and you’re waiting in the cue of IT.
We’re trying to really educate the customers across the organization. The old IT strategy was to keep everyone in the dark and they get what they get. Our way is to give them the information and give them different ways to do it.
I consider like IT to be like a shark; you stop, you die. You’ve got to make sure that the organization is serviced from a customer, process and technology perspective, and you got to make sure you have the right people.
Guerra: So the other big project hanging out there is ICD-10. What can you tell me about getting ready for that?
Burton: We’re in the early stages—the IT part, which I consider a challenge but not insurmountable. And there’s this training piece which is you know getting ready for 50-10 and ICD-10, which is really process driven. It’s changing the way people look at things. This is a hypothetical example but before, if you fell down while having a heart attack it was one thing, but now if you fall down on a puddle, if you fall on a grass—they’re really dividing into such extreme things. And the difference can be a variation of a swing of $500 one way or $5,000 the other way. So you really have to know or otherwise, from a financial perspective, you’re going to get burned.
Guerra: You’re going to start getting claims kicked back.
Burton: Right. Getting kicked back, or if they don’t get kicked back, it may be that you’re getting lower amount. Really, I think the focus is you need coding help tools; you really need a Wikipedia of coding. You need a tool that’s going to tell you which way to drive something from what it was before to the four variations it could be now.
Guerra: Does that exist?
Burton: I don’t know if it exists, but I think there are people out there trying to make it exist.
Guerra: And then sell it.
Burton: Like everything else, that there’s a product comes along. Nuance is one that I’ve heard about. So I think there’s a market for everything and I think the companies are quickly realizing that they need to give organizations options. I mean Cerner is going to be compliant, but compliant only means that the software will work. It really doesn’t mean anything in terms of how things are going to be split out. So it’s incumbent on the hospitals. Being an enterprise strategy helps because it means we don’t have 15 organizations we’re dealing with that we now have to work through the process with. So I’m enthused about that.
Guerra: Are there any other projects you’re working on that you want to touch on?
Burton: Well we have our remote hosting thing; that’s the original project that I was brought in for. We’re migrating our major data systems out to Kansas City to Cerner. They have amazing data center—if you have a chance, you have to see it. I would say the other thing is we’re building data center on the third floor, for the stuff like radiology PACS that has to be left behind, and that’s so that if there ever is a storm, the information here will be safe.
And actually, it’s leveraging more things like Dimensional Insights. I think that’s a tool that once we have it fully engaged—we have it in certain areas, but I’d like to have it across the organization—people will be able to tap into the knowledge so they’re not dependent on the IT staff. It really gives people autonomy and independence to look at information, because sometimes you have an idea and you want to see how it plays out, and you’re waiting in the cue of IT. Dimensional Insight gives you the ability not to have that cue. You’re able to activate it when you need it.
Guerra: That’s good for you right?
Burton: It was good for the organization, which was good for me.
Guerra: You let them fish for themselves.
Burton: Exactly. Like they say, if you give them the meal, then they’ve got one meal, but if you teach them how to fish, they have a meal forever. And what happens is that they become smarter at it. They start understanding more of the data. Where before I could say that some users dabble, where they’ll ask you for things not really knowing where it’s going, we’re trying to really educate the customers across the organization. The old IT strategy was to keep everyone in the dark and they get what they get. Our way is to give them the information and give them different ways to do it.
Guerra: Let’s talk a little bit about your career. Unless this is a LinkedIn typo, it looks to me like you went down there as VP and CIO and then you quickly got promoted to SVP. Is that correct?
Burton: It’s incredible when you have talent like mine how you rise up through the ranks.
Guerra: Yeah, they took one look at you and they said, promote this guy immediately.
Burton: No, that’s a joke. But what I will tell you is that they reorganized and they saw the appreciation of what IT brings to the organization. It’s a strategic position and so I had the opportunity to be moved up into that position.
The other part is that with the staff that I have—meaning my staff, not Cerner’s staff, they’ve done an amazing job quickly being pulled together from disparate areas to create what I consider one of the most amazing teams I’ve ever worked with.
So the organization has respect for what we’ve done in a short period of time. We’ve transformed the organization—areas like customer service. The help desk used to be called the ‘helpless desk’ now it’s a ‘helpful desk.’ So quality is being driven.
Now I will tell you that the staff I have is very experienced. I’ve been in outsourcing and I know it very well. When Bernie Clamon came to work for me six months ago, one of the first things I did was send him through the master level certification in ITEL. So he is certified at the highest level. He’s also a Lean black belt as well as PMI. Jody Torres has work as many projects as the informaticist, and the other folks who were in the DIO team had their specialties. The idea is to have best and keep the bar high and they should show the outsourcer hits it.
So we have been very rigorous, and the organization has seen that. I’ve presented many times to groups in front of the board, and Bernie presented the other day on governance. The idea is that we’re educating them on the things we’re doing. You have to sell yourself and sell why you’re doing things.
Guerra: I’ve definitely heard that you have to market internally the wins that you’ve achieved in IT.
Burton: And you can do two things. Some people come in and they do quick wins, which are like Hollywood backgrounds—they look good in the front, and then you bump into it and it falls over. Or you do things that are investments for the long-term. We decided to take the second approach, which means we’re using chips, because during the time people don’t see as much as activity, but the wireless actually functions. We’re moving ahead with you know we’re moving ahead with the PeopleSoft, the tablets and the COWs—all of the things are starting to percolate, and people are getting excited. The remote hosting is actually happening so in another couple of months, this organization will never have to worry again about the information. So now they’re seeing that, and it’s winning the respect of the organization.
Guerra: You got a wide range of experience in your background, in consulting and on the vendor’s side, with IBM, Siemens, First Consulting Group and PricewaterhouseCooper. With all that diversity, how do you think that helped you attack some of the issues you’re facing today as CIO?
Burton: What I will tell you is that if you look at health care organizations, it shows me different ways in which health care organizations work; meaning that being a different health care organization means I’m never stuck in the past. If I’ve been in some place 20 years, I’ll know 20 years of one way to do something. Other people see the nails and the wood when building a house; I see the house. And that’s helped me in health care. At PWC, I got to work in non-health care, which showed me how far behind how health care is, and the opportunity to move ahead.
What it gave me is the conviction and hopefully the courage to move ahead on things that people may not want to change but they need to change; being very passionate about making sure that we move forward. I consider like IT to be like a shark; you stop, you die. You’ve got to make sure that the organization is serviced from a customer, process and technology perspective, and you got to make sure you have the right people—the processes such as ITEL, the partnership. All of those things are critical to the organization. And I know that we as an organization, without having good partners, are going to be nowhere near as successful as if we can find partners who will help us get to this level.
Guerra: Right. I was looking at your LinkedIn profile and you’re probably a member of more groups than I am—something like 40 LinkedIn groups, and you have over 500 connections.
Burton: It’s like 897, I think.
Guerra: Is there a philosophy behind that in terms of staying informed and staying connected and networking so you don’t fall behind?
Burton: What I will tell you is that LinkedIn to me has become an amazing tool. It’s almost like having a mini Harvard of my disposal; there are a lot of great minds. I would probably say at least at least half or more of the people who I’m tied to are people I know and have kept in touch with, who I trade with if I have something I want to share. I always think my idea is best until someone comes along with another one, so I’m always open to hearing people’s suggestion on how to do things. And it has really helped me because it opens my mind whenever I feel like I’m getting locked into it.
I would say that as far groups, probably at least twice a month I spend a weekend going through and just reading everything. They’ll ask for suggestions and things, and there are also articles, which helps a lot too. I share them with my staff, and I share them with my customers—and the C-suite executives, when I see something that might be important for them to understand from the general perspective. I’ll share articles with them as well. So I guess I would say that LinkedIn has been an amazing tool for me.
Guerra: You mentioned that you do some reading on the weekend. Do you feel you have a good work-life balance with everything that’s going on, or do you think sometimes you overdo it?
Burton: No. I think it’s a pretty good balance; I enjoy research, so to me it’s keeping my mind active. I’d say it’s a pretty good balance. I’m sure it can always be better, but my daughter is 19 so it’s not like she wants to hang around with me a lot. And my wife does the same type of work; she just finished implementing PeopleSoft at NYU. So we both have plenty of time during the week and on the weekends. My feeling is that it’s better to focus on something positive. Plus I’m very inspired; to me it’s all about the team, and I’m working with some of the best people on my team that I ever worked with. So I’m very excited about that, and I always want to make sure my contribution is equal to this.
Guerra: Right. Now I can hear the accent a little bit, so you’re from the Boston area and went to school in Boston. How does the Boston guy wind up in Louisiana?
Burton: They were trying to deport me to Mexico but that didn’t happen. No what happened is, I would rather be 1,500 miles away from Boston and be involved in something exciting and transformational rather than being close to home be in something where I’m not adding value.
As you get older in your career, you realize that your yesterdays are more than your tomorrows. So to me it’s just one of those things that you want to leave a legacy behind, and I’m really hoping that we’ll leave a legacy to the future.
Guerra: So do you see yourself as being a turnaround specialist, where you get a place on the right track, feeling good, and then look for the next big challenge?
Burton: I would say that I never planned my life that way; it’s kind of gone that way in some cases, but my feeling is I’m here as long as I add value. I’m here as long they need change. I’m not a person who’s good with non-change so I guess if you’re asking if this place is done changing am I the right person, then I’d say probably not.
But what I will tell you is there’s plenty of work to do here with change and transformation, and the government seems to helping me out, keeping me engaged by doing regulations all over the place. And the fight between the democrats and republicans is certainly making me work harder, but what I will tell you is this organization deserves the best. So I’m not going anywhere until we have things in place.
Guerra: So you’re not looking up at your to-do list to see everything crossed off anytime soon?
Burton: No. I mean I suppose I could die, and that would be the ultimate cross-off, but I don’t think so. I believe that there is at least 18 months worth of effort that’s going to be heads down, with multi-pronged things happening between the ICD-10 and the Meaningful Use and CPOE and the ambulatory strategy, there are a lot of things that are going to be happening.
Guerra: Well I think that is a wonderful place to conclude our interview, Jim. I want to thank you so much for your time today.
Burton: I thank you very much and again, partnerships are the key, so I really appreciate you giving me the time.
Guerra: You got it. I’ll be in touch; hopefully we can work together again soon.
Burton: That’ll be great.