To say that Randy McCleese believes in the power of education is an understatement. He holds four degrees, served as an adjust instructor for 10 years, and holds a CHCIO certification. “If you’re not learning something new, you and your organization have become stagnant,” he said in a recent interview, during which McCleese discussed St. Claire’s journey from best-of-breed to an integrated system, the organization’s three-pronged approach to Meaningful Use, the ACO path it is pursuing with Bon Secours, and its involvement in the Northern Kentucky RHIO and the Kentucky HIE. McCleese also talks about St. Claire’s telemedicine work, which includes school-based programs, why he carves out time for public policy activities, his involvement in CHIME, and how he went from a field geologist to a CIO.
- CHIME — “The best value of any organization”
- Leaning on CIOs to help shorten the learning curve
- Giving input on MU Stage 3 proposals — “They’re going to be realistic.”
- A lifetime of learning
- From field geology to health IT
- “I would still take the CIO path”
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There are other CIOs out there that have already done this, so I just ping a few of them and ask, ‘how have you done these kinds of things?’ It’s shortened my learning curve tremendously.
We’ve already looked at some of the proposals for stage 3 and said, ‘Here are some issues with what you’re thinking.’ And that’s been great to get on the front end of that so that when those regulations do finally come out, they’re going to be realistic.
We understand that we have to change healthcare. There’s just no question about that. But let’s do it in a realistic manner. It can be done; it’s just going to take time. It’s a culture change.
I’m going to always be learning something new. To me, if you’re not learning something new, you and your organization have become stagnant. And we’re not advancing healthcare when we’re stagnant.
I see it in other healthcare organizations as well. People care for each other, much more so than some of the other industries, and especially the oil and gas industry, where it was more, ‘We’re just out to make a profit.’ Here we’re out to take care of people, and that makes a big difference to me.
Information technology can assist to the very core of what we’re doing here. Because healthcare is dependent upon good, accurate information, and we from an IT standpoint need to make sure that we can provide that in the best, most efficient, and most effective way we can.
Gamble: Not that that’s not enough, but is there anything else that’s pressing on your agenda right now?
McCleese: Those are the major things. We’re still installing the LSS ambulatory system. That and the ACO, from my standpoint, is going to be the biggest emphasis that we’re going to be going through over the next several months.
Gamble: Somehow you find the time to be very involved in CHIME and a couple of other organizations. I don’t know how. But I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your involvement with CHIME. You seem pretty heavily involved there. How has that helped you?
McCleese: I’ve made this comment numerous times. CHIME is the best value of any organization that I’ve ever been involved in. It’s such a networking opportunity that you can’t find anywhere else. That’s where I learned so many different things about how to be a CIO; because we’re not reinventing the wheel here or anything like that. If we’re trying to do anything, I’ve got the access through the CHIME website, through email, or just picking up the phone and just calling some of the other CIOs around the country and asking them how they’ve done some of these things. We’re looking at informatics and how do we go from the project phase over to ongoing support using informaticists. There are other CIOs out there that have already done this, so I just ping a few of them and ask, ‘how have you done these kinds of things?’ It’s shortened my learning curve tremendously in being able to ping them and being able to do those kinds of things. How are they doing disaster recovery? How are they doing data centers? Those are just some of the questions that I’ve posed in the past and gotten quick responses back.
My CEO, who is my direct supervisor, will occasionally say, ‘how are others doing it around the country?’ And I’ll say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll ask,’ and I just send out an email through CHIME; and if it’s a Meditech-specific question, I’ll send it out and say that I need an answer from other Meditech hospitals. I know enough of them now that I’ll call them up and just ask questions about how they do these kinds of things. To me, that’s just extremely beneficial.
From a CHIME standpoint, let me take it one step further in the involvement that I’ve had with public policy as we now call it — we called it advocacy for a number of years, but we’re moving over to the term public policy. It’s helped me tremendously to be able to work with some of the folks, especially on the CHIME staff that we have in Washington, and also to get those doors opened with the Office of the National Coordinator as well as working at the state level to understand what they have to do from a regulatory and legal standpoint, and for us to have discussions with them about the barriers to us being able to get there from an operational standpoint. I think we have a very good dialogue with the ONC and the work that’s going on there. We’re able to talk with them pretty frequently when they have questions about how to do something. Or if they’re thinking about things, they call upon us as CHIME members to say, ‘What are the issues with this? Here are some of the things we’re thinking’ to kind of poke holes in it.
We like to be able to do that, and that’s helped me to really understand some of those things that are coming down. From a CHIME standpoint, we’ve already looked at some of the proposals for stage 3 and we’ve said, ‘Here are some issues with what you’re thinking.’ And that’s been great to get on the front end of that so that when those regulations do finally come out, they’re going to be realistic.
Gamble: That’s hugely important and just in speaking with some of the people from CHIME in Washington, I think it’s really interesting how they’re having policymakers do site visits with hospitals and sit down with CIOs. Just having that kind of dialogue seems like it’s going to save everybody a lot of trouble to, like you said, to get out in front of the legislation. That’s what needs to be done.
McCleese: It is, and from a CIO standpoint, we understand that we have to change healthcare. There’s just no question about that. But let’s do it in a realistic manner. It can be done; it’s just going to take time. It’s a culture change. The things that I do with CHIME, I just work into my day-to-day routine of what I’m doing here at St. Claire’s to be a CIO, because to part of being a CIO is being involved at that level.
Gamble: It’s interesting; you said before you’re always how to be a CIO and you’ve been doing this for a while. Is it something where it’s just always changing and you find that there’s never going to be a point of, ‘Okay, now I got it; now I know what I need to know?’
McCleese: The day I’ll quit learning is when they put me on a pine box and cover me with dirt. I’m going to always be learning something new. To me, if you’re not learning something new, you and your organization have become stagnant. And we’re not advancing healthcare when we’re stagnant like that. I had somebody talking to me the other dayl I’ve gone to school all my life. That’s just part of me. I’ve always wanted to learn. And they said, ‘Are you finished with school?’ and I said, ‘I think I am. I’m not sure, but I think I am.’
Gamble: It is true. You always should be learning something. It’s a good motto to live by, actually. So you brought up school. I looked on LinkedIn and it was really interesting to me that you majored in geology and had an early career as a field geologist. How on earth did you make the leap from there to health IT?
McCleese: You’re right. My first undergraduate degree is in geology, and yes, I did go to work as a geologist, first doing a little bit of coal geology and then I moved into the oil and gas geology. During those early years, I realized that I didn’t want to do geology the rest of my life. So I started back to school to work on an MBA, and lo and behold, I got the opportunity to start working on PCs. This was when PCs first came out, because the first PC I worked on at the office was one of the old Radio Shack computers that used 8-inch floppy disks.
In 1987, the vice president of exploration at the company where I was working bought a geological software program and brought it back to the office and told me he wanted me to learn to run it. I learned to run the hardware, and that was my introduction into hardware maintenance and software maintenance. I learned and it grew from there into database management and mapping, and I just loved it. So I migrated slowly from doing geology over to managing geological information and to being able to take that data and produce it in a format to be used by end-users, which is something I still do today.
In 1995, that company did a reorganization and my position was eliminated. I was looking for something, and fortunately, the position was open here at St. Claire, and I moved into healthcare. Because at that time I had finished the MBA, and St. Claire’s was looking for somebody that had some computer knowledge and experience, but primarily somebody that could apply from a business standpoint, and I’ve done a little of that. I hope I have anyway, and we seem to have done quite well here.
Gamble: And things just kind of evolved from there for you, right?
McCleese: It did, and when I came here I realized I didn’t have enough of the technical knowledge, so I did go back to school at Morehead and finished that undergraduate degree in information systems. While I was doing that, they developed a master’s program, so when I finished the undergraduate degree I decided to go back and get the masters. So I did that and finished up last year on that one.
Gamble: And your undergrad was at Morehead State, right?
McCleese: I did the bachelors of geology and the bachelors of business administration and computer information systems at Morehead State, and then the Master of Science and Information Systems at Morehead State. I did the MBA at East Tennessee State, because when I was working for the oil and gas company, it was relocated to East Tennessee in Kingsport, and I went there to finish the MBA. So I have the two masters and two bachelors degrees.
Gamble: Morehead State stuck out to me because that’s where Phil Simms went, right?
McCleese: I had a couple of classes with Phil Simms when he was here.
Gamble: Did you really?
McCleese: Yeah. We’re about the same age. I had a couple of classes with him.
Gamble: That’s pretty cool. That’s been my knowledge of Morehead State up until today. And you went in two different directions.
McCleese: We went in totally two different directions. I was not a football player, but I did go watch him play.
Gamble: Nice. I’m a Giants fan, so I’m a big fan of Phil.
McCleese: Oh great.
Gamble: So just as one last question, you’ve have had an interesting road. If you could go back, is there anything you would do differently? Would you still take the CIO path?
McCleese: I would definitely take the CIO path. Having moved from the oil and gas industry over to healthcare, I’d much rather be in healthcare. It’s a much more caring environment. People care a lot more about each other. That may be just because I’m at St. Claire, but I don’t think so. I see it in other healthcare organizations as well. People care for each other, much more so than some of the other industries, and especially in the oil and gas industry, where it was more, ‘We’re just out to make a profit.’ Here we’re out to take care of people, and that makes a big difference to me.
Gamble: It’s such an interesting time to be in this industry.
McCleese: It’s very interesting, and there’s always something to learn. We have the opportunity to remake our industry. To me, information technology can assist to the very core of what we’re doing here. Because healthcare is dependent upon good, accurate information, and we from an IT standpoint need to make sure that we can provide that in the best, most efficient, and most effective way we can to the provider regardless of what level they are, whether that’s a nurse or whether that’s a rad tech or whether that’s a physician, wherever they may be. In our case, if that’s home health and they’re out at the patient’s home, we need to provide it to them in the best way that we can do it to make sure they’re taking care of that patient the best they can.
Gamble: All right, so unless there’s anything else you wanted to cover, I know we’ve talked about a lot and I really appreciate your time.
McCleese: I appreciate the opportunity, Kate. It’s a great opportunity to talk with you.
Gamble: All right, thank you so much.
McCleese: Thank you, Kate.