Like many organizations, Community Hospital Anderson is working to figure out the best way to increase patient engagement. For Joey Hobbs, that means going beyond just building a portal; it means reaching out to patients through social media to build brand awareness and loyalty, and then taking the next steps. In this interview, the newly-minted CIO talks about the benefits of being part of a large network while still having autonomy, the importance of timing when it comes to scheduling major projects, and his plans with Meditech Client Server. He also discusses how leading the Meditech implementation helped him to rise through the ranks at CHA, and what he learned while attending CHIME CIO Boot Camp and earning CHCIO certification.
- Farmville for patients
- Starting as an IT intern doing desktop support
- Pursuing a master’s in business
- Implementing Meditech on time & under budget — “It did add some credibility”
- CHIME CIO Boot Camp & CHCIO certification
- Learning from Chuck Christian
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I was torn between trying to do Microsoft certifications or get my Master’s in business. I sat down and really thought about it and realized I enjoy business a whole lot more than just fixing computers.
It was definitely an organization-wide project which brought some visibility and a chance to show what I was able to do. Our project was successful — we went live on time and under budget. I think it definitely did add some credibility.
There are organizational responsibilities that are different and there are definitely a lot more meetings. But I just love the business side, and so being with the rest of the leadership team and being involved on the direction of the entire hospital, instead of just the direction of IT, is very intriguing to me.
I’m on the younger side of people in this field, so I wanted to be able to show, not just to my organization, but others, that I do know what I’m doing. It’s definitely a sense of showing you’ve put in the time and the work to understand the field that you’re in.
It’s as much fun as it is nerve wracking. I think you definitely have to have a desire to want to do it, because if you don’t, it will run you over. There are so many changing pieces, and anytime the government’s involved in the heavy part of what you’re doing, that’s a full-time job in itself.
Gamble: I think that’s a really interesting idea. Like you said, taking the time to establish that brand and taking advantage of the fact that people do really seem to love Facebook. It’ll be interesting to see how that works for you guys down the line.
Hobbs: We feel like we’re in a good place to start, but converting from Facebook to your health is different. I was at a CHIME conference and someone was talking about using a game like Farmville for people’s health, which I never thought of. But it was such a great idea because people will spend hours to be able to put a badge that they won a free horse or something online for no reason whatsoever, but they’re so proud of it. Maybe we can figure out games that give patients something to be proud of with their health that they can show online, like ‘I haven’t smoked for 10 days,’ or any of those kinds of things. I think it’s what people look for and we have to get creative in what we do.
Gamble: That’s really interesting and that could be a way to get through to patients and get them involved in their health.
Hobbs: Yeah, when the guy was talking about it, to me it sounded like a great idea. It’s outside the realm of what we all sit and think about, but there’s a lot of truth to it.
Gamble: Yeah, definitely. So I want to talk a little bit about your background. You’ve been at Community Hospital Anderson since 2001, correct? Was that your first job out of school?
Hobbs: Actually it was 1998. I started right out of high school. I lived locally and commuted to school. I actually started in shipping and receiving through the winters, and then I mowed the grounds in the summer for the first two years before I started in IT, first as an intern doing desktop support, and then became manager of desktop. I was in that role when I graduated from college. I graduated in December, and by the end of Christmas break, I was bored.
There was a group of four other people from the hospital that were going to get their Master’s degree at the University in Anderson, and I was torn between trying to do Microsoft certifications or get my Master’s in business. I sat down and really thought about it and realized I enjoy business a whole lot more than just fixing computers. So I made the decision and it has worked. I’ve continued to move up to different levels and take on different responsibilities, and was in charge of our Meditech implementation. I coordinated the search and the site visits and all those different things, and headed the actual implementation itself.
Gamble: What was your role when you were doing that?
Hobbs: My actual role at that time was MIS manager, and then once the project was completed, I became IT director.
Gamble: How long ago was that?
Hobbs: We went live in 2008, so it was right around 2009. Some of the dates are a little blurry.
Gamble: Sure. That seems like that was a really good opportunity for you to step up and show what you can do and take on this huge task.
Hobbs: Yeah, I had done some smaller projects managing on a lot of the little systems we put in — a radiology system and materials management and things like that. I just always enjoyed working with teams to accomplish these things. So yeah, I think it was definitely an organization-wide project which brought some visibility and a chance to show what I was able to do. Our project was successful — we went live on time and under budget. I think it definitely did add some credibility.
Gamble: Anytime you can get something like that done on time and under budget it’s going to make people happy, right?
Hobbs: Exactly, especially the board and other executives.
Gamble: When did you actually become CIO?
Hobbs: Our other CIO left in 2010, and the organization made a decision not to replace the position. So I took on a lot of the responsibilities at that time, but I officially became CIO in September of this past year.
Gamble: So only a few months, but in a way you’ve already been doing the job or you’ve have already had the role in some ways.
Hobbs: I feel like from the IT side of the world, I was doing a lot of the things that I’m asked to do today. There are organizational responsibilities that are different and there are definitely a lot more meetings. But I just love the business side, and so being with the rest of the leadership team and being involved on the direction of the entire hospital, instead of just the direction of IT, is very intriguing to me. When you come from the IT side of the world not having as much of a clinical background, I’ve had informatics reporting to me for five years, so I’ve learned from osmosis enough things to sound like I know a little bit about patient health. It’s always an interesting position, but I definitely enjoy the new side of that business side of the world.
Gamble: Are you definitely glad you did go after the master’s and get that knowledge and experience in preparing you for this type of role?
Hobbs: Yeah. It’s kind of funny because I got my master’s before I moved into some of these things, but I think there’s no question that it provides the baseline. I think it provides the confidence that you’ve gone through those things and you have the additional tools that you go back and rely on as you go through situations. There’s no question I would recommend it to anybody that wants to continue to grow in a space, healthcare or not, because it’s well worth the investment.
Gamble: As far as getting to CIO certification, what made you decide to pursue that, and how has that helped you?
Hobbs: I’d had some conversations with my boss at the time, and this was before there were really any conversations of me moving to the CIO role. I knew it was something that I wanted, but we didn’t really hadn’t had a conversation, so I had asked my boss at the time if she would approve of me going to the CIO Boot Camp. I was going to file for a scholarship things and I had been told that all the scholarships weren’t used every year so there was a good chance of that. So we filled out all the paperwork and she wrote the letter of recommendation, but the organization made a decision that they would pay it if I wasn’t able to get the scholarship. It was something that I went to her and requested. I had heard great things about the boot camp and I knew that was where I wanted to get to.
In the meantime, before going through that and actually going to the boot camp, I was promoted to CIO. So the timing of it was very good because that boot camp is such an unbelievable experience. The six or seven people that teach it definitely have a quality to teach. All the things you walk in thinking ‘I do a pretty good job,’ you walk out knowing you have a hundred things you should be doing that you’re not doing. It’s definitely very educational, and you walk out of there knowing you have the tools and you know you have the right mindset. It gives you a sense of satisfaction, I think.
The certification itself was something I wanted to. I’m on the younger side of people in this field, so I wanted to be able to show not just to my organization, but to other vendors and things like that that I do know what I’m doing. It’s definitely a sense of showing you’ve put in the time and the work to understand the field that you’re in. That, for me, is the biggest reason that I wanted to get it.
Gamble: I would think that there’s definitely a good amount of credibility with that certification. As far as CHIME, has it been helpful to you to have these contacts, and especially because you are on the young side, to be able to reach out to people who have been doing this for decades?
Hobbs: Yeah, there’s no question. Like I said, the people that taught the CHIME boot camp are unbelievably accessible. I don’t know how some of them have the time. For example, Chuck Christian — I wanted to get more involved at the state HIMSS level and I sent him an email. I don’t think it matters what hour of the day — he responds back within an hour, which is pretty amazing.
I found that to be the case with all of the people that take the time to teach and be involved in that. They have a desire to give back. And even outside of the ones from the boot camp and teaching, I’ve met a number of connections in the Meditech space that I’ve been in contact with. Sometimes they have questions for me and sometimes I have questions for them, and we’re able to share where we think some things are going — things that they’ve done a little different that you can share and build on. It definitely helps when you’re in the same vendor space because that’s the majority of the life you live in, just being around people that are in the other spaces and hearing where their vendors are taking them and challenges they have. We all have the same challenges; it might just be a different platform.
Gamble: From everything I hear, it seems like it’s a really interesting time to be a CIO. There are so many moving parts; so many things that you have to be cognizant of. But so far, in terms of being a CIO — an official CIO for a few months — what do you think about the experience so far? What is it like being CIO during these times?
Hobbs: I think it’s as much fun as it is nerve wracking. I think you definitely have to have a desire to want to do it, because if you don’t, it will run you over. There are so many changing pieces, and anytime the government’s involved in the heavy part of what you’re doing, that’s a full-time job in itself. Just trying to keep up with all the changes, doing what’s right for your organization and doing what’s right for the patients, and then trying to juggle all of these things at once, because a lot of the time, what the government is telling you to do isn’t necessarily the best thing. You have to juggle — how can we take this piece but yet still do it in the safest way? It’s definitely a challenging time, but like I said, I don’t think you’d get into it unless you want to do it and you enjoy it. I think that’s the only way you’re going to move forward with it.
Gamble: And it’s only going to get more interesting in the next few years, it seems.
Hobbs: Yeah. Once the incentives go away and it’s all penalties, it will be a different marketplace.
Gamble: Definitely. Well, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, and I know I want to check back in with you down the road and see how everything is going.
Hobbs: Absolutely. If there’s ever anything I can do, I appreciate you guys taking the time and everything you guys do for the industry in keeping all of us CIOs up to date on what’s going on everywhere in one easy place.
Gamble: Thank you so much, and I’ll speak to you again soon.
Hobbs: All right, take care. Thank you.