A lot of organizations talk about innovation, but MedCentral walks the walk. Not only was it the first hospital in the country to attest to MU Stage 1, but the Mansfield, Ohio-based system also serves as a national showcase site for Siemens. For CIO Mike Mistretta, that means having the opportunity to drive technology and influence usability; however, it also means having to manage expectations and frustrations. In this interview, Mistretta talks about why he enjoys being on the cutting edge — but not the bleeding edge, his “wait and see” approach with ACOs, and the goal to create a unified patient record. He also discusses the work his team is doing with analytics, and how he thinks the CIO role will continue to evolve.
- Retaining top talent
- IT rounding — “We work very closely with our clinical partners.”
- Innovative Inputters
- From paper to Level 6
- “Looking at where they were in their adoption cycle made it exciting.”
- Learning leadership at West Point
- The CIO’s evolving role
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I think they enjoy the beta work and the new technology initiatives that are out there. There aren’t a lot of health systems that can offer those types of things.
When they’re not caring for the patients every day and seeing some of the changes that come through, you can lose the touch of that real fast, and so we definitely encourage them to go out and spend time on the units.
We have to make sure that we’re reminding people of what they used to do on paper at this juncture. They’ve gotten so far away from it that they’ve forgotten the backup processes.
It certainly gave me a pretty strong foundation for everything that we’re doing today from a leadership perspective and from a technology perspective.
I think something you’re going to see from CIOs industry-wide is more operational responsibilities because of what we bring to the table. We’re one of the only people that touch multiple areas of a health system.
Gamble: What are some of the things you’ve done or will try to do to hold on to the good people?
Mistretta: It’s the type of work that we’re doing; I think they enjoy the beta work and the new technology initiatives that are out there. There aren’t a lot of health systems that can offer those types of things. We’ve done some retention bonus-type situations where we’re making sure that they are paid fairly. Flexibility in the schedules is also something we offer. We reimburse for internet access from home, for example, to our analyst staff so that they can work from home. We try and enable them to be able to do that through things like flexibility and education opportunities — sending people away as they’ve identified things they’d like to be doing from a developmental perspective, and just overall, trying to be as fair and accommodating to the employees as we possibly can be.
Gamble: That’s a good thing to be at an organization that tends to be on the forefront of technology. I can imagine that’s a nice sell too to people who really want to be able to flex those muscles and have that kind of opportunity.
Gamble: Being the CIO at MedCentral, you have the opportunity to lead a culture where there is a little more innovation. I can’t imagine that that’s an easy thing to do; to foster this type of creativity. What are some of your thoughts on that?
Mistretta: One of the things I thoroughly enjoy about my position today is the ability to do some of that and work with the vendors to drive product direction. As we go through the technologies and work with the staff to develop functionality, it’s something that I personally really enjoy doing. When you get up in the morning and you’re doing what you like to do to drive direction and technology, it makes it a whole lot easier.
Gamble: Now in terms of communication between IT and the clinical staff, do you do any rounding or have meetings between the two departments, things like that?
Mistretta: Absolutely. There are a couple of us who sit in on the nursing leadership meetings. I round periodically to the floors, and as we have application live events, I support those events with the staff coming in. We had a snow storm a couple of years ago where I came in and was actually working with the house supervisor to make sure we had enough staff in the house to be able to function properly.
So yes, we work very closely with our clinical partners and even get input to what the systems need to do. We have a group that they pull together called the Innovative Inputters; they help guide us to where we need to go from the user interface perspective and show us what will be easier from their perspective. On all levels and different fronts, we were work pretty closely with them.
Gamble: So in addition to the obvious benefits of having that constant communication, maybe it also can help to stay ahead of potential issues.
Mistretta: Absolutely, yes. The more input that we get in there, the more we can anticipate as we work with the vendors to develop some of the user interfaces and some of the technology. I have several people on the nursing staff that work for me as well, and when they’re not caring for the patients every day and seeing some of the changes that come through, you can lose the touch of that real fast, and so we definitely encourage them to go out and spend time on the units. Some of them even do shifts occasionally as a call-in to make sure that they’re staying in touch.
Gamble: Right. Now in terms of your background, you’ve been CIO of MedCentral since 2006, correct?
Mistretta: That’s correct, beginning in 2006, so it’s been about seven and half years.
Gamble: Where were you before that?
Mistretta: I was at WellSpan Health in York, Pennsylvania.
Gamble: Were you a CIO at WellSpan?
Mistretta: No, I was the Director of Applications there, so I had responsibility for the software side of things.
Gamble: Were you hired as CIO in 2006?
Mistretta: That’s correct, yes.
Gamble: It’s pretty obvious why you’d want to make that kind of move. That’s a great opportunity.
Mistretta: It is, and not only an opportunity from that respect, but looking where they were in their adoption cycle here made it pretty exciting for me, knowing the things that I’ve talked about that I like to do. When I came here, they had just started on the Soarian implementation and they were basically moving from a paper-based system. The ability to drive an organization from paper to a Level 6 adoption on an EMR has been pretty exciting over the last few years.
Gamble: I can imagine the huge amount of change that the whole organization has been through.
Mistretta: Absolutely. Not only from an implementation perspective, but even just supporting the modern technologies from a paper-based system to what we have to do today to keep the systems running and the level of dependency that is on the applications at this point. When we have an outage — whether it’s scheduled or not — it’s pretty painful. We have scheduled maintenance on a system. We have to make sure that we’re reminding people of what they used to do on paper at this juncture. They’ve gotten so far away from it that they’ve forgotten the backup processes a lot of times.
Gamble: What a difference a few years can make, right?
Mistretta: Part of that is staff turnover, but part of it also is that humans are creatures of habit and so as they get to do things repetitively, they get very good at it. And if they don’t do it, they forget.
Gamble: It’s amazing how quickly you get used to having all the technology that we have now.
Mistretta: Yes. What would people do without a smart phone?
Gamble: That’s so true. Just being lost now is that big of a deal.
Gamble: Now I saw on LinkedIn that you were a graduate of West Point?
Mistretta: Actually, I went to West Point for three years. I left during my last year, but it certainly gave me a pretty strong foundation for everything that we’re doing today from a leadership perspective and from a technology perspective.
Gamble: That’s really interesting. I think being in that kind of environment really can shape a lot of things about your career.
Mistretta: Absolutely, and in particular, from a leadership perspective. There are a lot of things I’ve brought over and been able to transfer through the last 20-something years.
Gamble: That’s a theme we hear so much about. People who are already in established leadership roles are always looking for ways to improve upon that. Is that something you do?
Mistretta: Absolutely. In working as the CIO, I’ve also picked up additional operational responsibility for the health system due to the leadership capabilities and growth opportunities that I’ve had. I’ve picked up materials management and physical security — managing the guards — because of the ability to deal with people and manage people with what needs to be done for the system. I think something you’re going to see from CIOs industry-wide is more operational responsibilities because of what we bring to the table. We’re one of the only people that touch multiple areas of a health system.
Gamble: I guess that means you always have to be learning and you always have to be agile.
Mistretta: Absolutely. We are in constant state of learning. There’s no question.
Gamble: All in all, with everything going on and all of the changes in healthcare, would you do it all over again to get to the place where you are right now?
Mistretta: Absolutely. We all learn as we go through our lives. I love what I do today — there are certainly some sidesteps I might take along the way and some things that I’ve learned not to do, but all in all, I love what I do. I think I’m pretty effective at it, and it’s been a great ride.
Gamble: You’d still take on the big job of helping to transition MedCentral from paper?
Mistretta: Absolutely. This has been one of the best moves I’ve made in my career.
Gamble: It sounds like you found something that you really do have passion for, and that’s important.
Mistretta: I think so. If you enjoy what you’re doing and you enjoy coming into work every day, it certainly makes everything a lot better in your life.
Gamble: I agree. Alright, well we’ve touched on a lot, so unless there’s anything else that you wanted to talk about, I’ll let you go. But I wanted to thank you so much for your time.
Mistretta: Super. It’s been great talking with you.
Gamble: Thanks, and I hope we can catch up again down the road.
Mistretta: Okay, I hope so.
Gamble: All right, thank you.
Mistretta: Thank you.
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