John Stanley is no rookie when it comes to health IT. The senior VP and CIO at Riverside Health System, a 5-hospital network based in Newport News, Va., has been deploying technologies for 35 years. What has his experience taught him? To position his organization ahead of the curve when it comes to initiatives like Meaningful Use, and to have a ‘bullish’ attitude about meeting requirements. In this interview, Stanley talks about his organization’s long-standing relationship with Siemens, how he and his team are working to create an environment of interoperability, and why sometimes you need to bring in help to deal with the complexities of order sets.
- Stanley’s career — at Riverside since 1976
- “I’m still having fun”
- Learning the clinical side of the house
- Finding a sound work/life balance — “I’ve seen too many workaholics retire with nothing to fall back on”
I’m still having fun though, and certainly the challenges, and the level of challenges, have increased. And I suppose if we hadn’t gotten the Meaningful Use qualification or done some of the other things we’ve been able to accomplish during last few years with automation, maybe it wouldn’t be quite as much fun.
I think my role is more to keep IT on track as far as meeting the strategic tactics and goals of the organization. That means having to say no when everyone wants to go out and buy their own system. It means trying to arrange the resources and make shifts in the IT plan or strategy to keep us on track.
I’ve seen too many people work themselves in the ground, or maybe they eventually retire and they have nothing to fall back on. So I think having a rounded life is key; whether it’s church, hobbies, or spending time with family. It’s important to have balance.
Guerra: Let’s talk about your career a little bit now. I don’t want to date you, but you’ve been at Riverside since 1976, and you started as a management engineer. Is that correct?
Stanley: I did.
Guerra: Tell me little bit about your career. To be at one place since 1976—that’s pretty amazing. You must know where all the skeletons are buried, as they say.
Stanley: When I came to work for Riverside, I was an industrial engineer but I was hired as a management engineer. And I figured I’ll put my two years in. And I’ll tell you, every two years, it seemed, when I was in my twenties, I was looking for another job. Well the few times I did look for jobs and go out on interviews, I would come back and say, ‘No this is a great organization,’ and I’d stay, or things kept changing. I kept changing responsibilities; I actually got involved in planning. Part of that was because I could get some data even pre-computers, and then when we got some technology, I really gotten involved in the planning and decision support strategy side.
At some point in the late 80s, they said, ‘Hey, this guy somehow can get stuff out of these computers. Let’s put him charge of them.’ So I came in with my engineering background and basically have been responsible for IT here for the last 20 years. We’ve had a lot of changes, from shared systems to where we actually shared the same processing with actually with our competitors, and we all sort of broke apart as we became even more competitive. And it’s just grown from there and it’s been a great organization to work for. Wow, 35 years. I’m still having fun though, and certainly the challenges, and the level of challenges, have increased. And I suppose if we hadn’t gotten the Meaningful Use qualification or done some of the other things we’ve been able to accomplish during last few years with automation, maybe it wouldn’t be quite as much fun.
But we have a great group of folks to work with at all levels and a great IT team here at Riverside. I’m still here, and I’m still having fun.
Guerra: That’s good. Most CIOs, even if they don’t have a background in engineering, have a background in something like computer science, and I would guess it’s the clinical side of the house where you have the big learning curve. Was that case with you? Was the big challenge in learning the ins and outs, and how much do you think the CIO of a hospital needs to know about actual clinical practice to do a good job?
Stanley: I depend heavily on the physicians and nurses, really at all levels. We have a chief medical officer and we have another MD who is vice president of clinical innovation and a chief nursing officer. So at the upper most level they provide guidance, because I won’t even pretend to know how we’re going to impact infection rates. I need to have other clinicians tell me what the issue is, and then we can apply the technology to it.
In terms of working with nurses in IT, we at Riverside have added many nurses to the team over the years, and now that we’re getting nursing informatics degrees and certifications, I couldn’t be happier. The more clinical involvement we have, the better solutions we can provide. I’ll be the first to say, ‘I don’t know anything about the clinical side. I’m going to depend on you all for that, but here’s what I do know.’ I think my role is more to keep IT on track as far as meeting the strategic tactics and goals of the organization. That means having to say no when everyone wants to go out and buy their own system. It means trying to arrange the resources and make shifts in the IT plan or strategy to keep us on track. So I would say that organizational skills and understanding how to create the right expectations and align resources is the majority of my job.
Guerra: There is certainly a lot of work on every CIO’s plate today, and you can easily get overwhelmed by the job. I saw on your bio on the Riverside website that you’ve recently been serving as a Stephen minister disciple class teacher at your local church, and I’m wondering if that’s how you are able to sort of get away from work. Is that one of the ways in which you detach?
Stanley: I take a lot of work home, and mentally, it’s hard not to. I think everyone has to have another life. For me it’s family, and now, grandchildren. I’ll be honest, I have a three-year-old granddaughter, we just celebrated her birthday last weekend, and a six-month-old grandson. I need nothing more than to spend some time to get charged up and come back. I’m real charged up today and yesterday since I had a great weekend, but I think everyone has to have something. I’ve seen too many people work themselves in the ground, or maybe they eventually retire and they have nothing to fall back on. So I think having a rounded life is key; whether it’s church, hobbies, or spending time with family. It’s important to have balance. Even at work, you have to maintain a balance and you have to have fun in some aspects, or create it if you’re going through a very difficult time.
Guerra: Were you always pretty good at that or did you ever slip into workaholic mode?
Stanley: Oh I’m sure my wife would say that I drove her nuts during certain stressful things whether it was early go-lives or staying up all night trying to process strategic planning information through various means way back when. And you can’t always have balance. There are some tough times when you’re going live with CPOE and you get a lot of pushback in those early days or you have physicians saying, ‘What do you mean I was suppose to go to training?’ It can weigh heavily on you because you never want to affect anything with patient care or safety or quality, and if there are quirks in the system, you need to take care of those. So these things will keep you up at night, but generally they’re short-term issues. Because again, we’ve got great teams of folks that get to it and try to solve a problem and we’ve got some wonderful partners like Siemens to help us out.
Guerra: Alright, John. Well that is all I have for you today. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Stanley: Wow, you did really cover the full range. I didn’t expect the Stephen Ministry question—I actually forgot which bio that was. But I thank you for that, and I enjoyed it.
Guerra: Well you’re very welcome. I’ve enjoyed it too, and I look forward to speaking with you again soon.
Stanley: My pleasure.
Guerra: Have a wonderful day, John.
Stanley: You too. Enjoy the week.