Starting a new CIO role just as an organization is going live with an EHR system can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, a lot of the heavy lifting is done; but on the other hand, there’s an intense post-go-live period during which the staff needs constant support. For CIO Jeff Brown, who joined Lawrence General in 2012, this tumultuous time was an opportunity to leverage the skills he learned working in other areas of the industry. In this interview, Brown talks about his exciting first year as CIO, the pressure to do more with limited resources, his plans to develop an integrate care model, and why he still sometimes needs a “phone-a-friend.”
- Implementing SSO — “It’s really a no-brainer”
- Waiting for the dust to settle
- His formula for success
- The CIO network — “I definitely have a few phone-a-friends”
- Teaching at Northeastern & Brandeis
- Keeping up with changing healthcare models
- “There’s no other place I’d rather be.”
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It doesn’t take a lot to quantify both the tangible and the intangible ROI in doing a single sign-on solution. All you need to do is follow or track one or two clinicians for a few hours, and you see them logging in and out of multiple workstations, which can take a lot of time.
I got great advice years ago from a very dear mentor and friend of mine who said he truly believed the best CIOs are the ones who can wear the hat of the vendor, the consultant, and the hospital. As I look at my career history and the trajectory, that’s exactly what happened.
Things move so fast and so furious that if you don’t have a strong network — a think tank, of other leaders throughout the industry — you can find yourself at a knowledge deficit.
It’s the basic concept of how the patient is at the center now, and coordinating care across the continuum within communities and keeping care local and increasing quality and lowering costs. When I started teaching five or six years ago, that was not the main story. The main story was how do we get physicians on EMRs.
The amount of change and influence that’s coming from all sectors is causing healthcare organizations to ensure they have the top leadership in place, the highest performing teams, and the best and most highly qualified candidates they can find.
Gamble: I read that you had implemented single sign-on. Were you trying to address some of the workflow concerns? How did you make those decisions?
Brown: Single sign-on, in my opinion, is one of those great quick wins for an organization because I think people inherently realize the challenges that can occur when a nurse or clinician is logging on multiple times at various workstations. It doesn’t take a lot to really quantify both the tangible and the intangible return on investment in doing a single sign-on solution. All you need to do is follow or track one or two clinicians for a few hours, and you see them logging in and out of multiple workstations, which, in aggregate, can actually take a lot of time out of their clinical duties and patient care. It’s really kind of a no brainer. Single sign-on for Lawrence General has been a huge success. The clinicians and staff love it, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to expand and roll out throughout the organization. We’re almost at full organization saturation for single sign-on. We have just a few areas left to roll out, but it’s one of those quick, easy wins in my book.
Gamble: And that was with Imprivata?
Brown: That’s correct, yes.
Gamble: That’s something that I would think could almost endear you to some of the clinicians. You’re putting in something that’s going to make things easier. I imagine that goes a ways toward that whole change management adjustment process for everyone.
Brown: There is the clinical side of things and the ease-of-use factor, but it also adds another layer of increased security and privacy. I think single sign-on solutions like Imprivata and many others provide several tangible layers of benefits for both clinicians and IT. I’ve actually never rolled out single sign-on at the same time you’re doing an EMR so that at the point where your EMR goes live, you also have single sign-on in place. I think in the future that would be a very valuable combination to have in place. But we waited for the dust to settle, so to speak, around our implementation before we went with single sign-on.
Gamble: That certainly makes sense. So that was April of 2012 that you started at Lawrence General. This is your first CIO role, but you have experience on the consulting and vendor sides. What facet of your experience do you think has been most helpful in adjusting to the new role?
Brown: It’s interesting. I got great advice years ago from a very dear mentor and friend of mine who said he truly believed the best CIOs are the ones who can wear the hat of the vendor, the consultant, and the hospital. As I look at my career history and the trajectory, that’s exactly what happened. I’ve worked for a leading EMR vendor, I’ve worked for leading hospital institutions — both academic and children’s, and I also worked for a top consulting firm. I think constantly having those three perspectives has been a huge advantage in being in a CIO role. I would say that’s probably, for me anyway, the formula for success.
Gamble: Do you find you’re able to take advantage of that by taking what you liked about consulting and what you liked about being on the vendor side, and using those different skills to your advantage?
Brown: Yeah, absolutely. It’s great because when I’m working with our leading EMR vendor or I’m dealing with consultants around large engagements or I’m just dealing with the nuts and bolts and the business of the hospital, I’ve had the opportunity to sit on that side and have that lens. And when you combine all three of those perspectives, it makes for a very quantifiable advantage, I think.
Gamble: You’ve talked about having a mentor in the past. But when you came into the CIO role, because it’s such a different role, were there people you turned to for advice or maybe had on speed dial just to help get used to a different role?
Brown: Absolutely. Throughout my career growth and trajectory, I’ve actually been introduced to several other CIOs in the state and throughout the country, and so I definitely do have a few phone-a-friends, which I think is critical. Not only for the mentorship, but it’s invaluable to understand what’s happening throughout the country; what are the dynamics in their specific area or community. The other aspect is that things move so fast and so furious that if you don’t have a strong network — a think tank, of other leaders throughout the industry — you can find yourself at a knowledge deficit. I still have very strong relationships and contacts at various hospital systems and consulting firms, and I still keep in touch with a lot of the vendors that I’ve worked with in the past. I think networking and collaboration is just another core component and set of a leadership skill that is paramount when you’re in an executive role.
Gamble: That’s something that we find universally — even people who have been CIOs for how many years, just having the phone-a-friend, like you said, is huge.
Brown: The other thing that really keeps me on my toes and something that I find invaluable is I’m also an active professor at Northeastern and Brandeis. I teach at the master’s level in both informatics and analytics. Those are two great areas that force me to be an industry leader. It’s that old saying, ‘the best way to learn is to teach.’ I use it as an avenue to ensure that I’m constantly being kept up to speed on the latest industry trends. Teaching is an invaluable experience, and frankly, it’s another great way to network. Some of my students are unbelievable and some of those actually even turn into great job opportunities for them.
Gamble: I’m really glad you mentioned that. I think that that’s really interesting. I’m sure that you’re able to get that perspective. We’re talking about a master’s program in health informatics, and so I’m sure you’re dealing with some really bright people and just really getting a different perspective. So it’s a win for both parties I would imagine.
Brown: It is. I’m teaching this semester actively at Northeastern, and what’s really fascinating is that a lot of what we’ve talked about is around HIEs and ACOs and the whole changing business model around healthcare and healthcare reform. It’s the basic concept of how the patient is at the center now, and coordinating care across the continuum within communities and keeping care local and increasing quality and lowering costs. When I started teaching five or six years ago, that was not the main story. The main story at that time was how do we get physicians on EMRs and how do we get them to adopt. It’s just really fascinating. As I look back on the material that I created five to six years ago, it’s totally different than the material that I’m teaching today.
Gamble: That’s really amazing. You’re just talking about five or six years — that’s the blink of an eye, and yet so much has changed.
Brown: Exactly. That’s the moving world of healthcare. I think one of the biggest misconceptions in healthcare, from what I’ve heard in different media outlets and in reading different things, is that healthcare is this very slow moving machine. From my perspective, I can tell you that’s completely the opposite. I think what’s happened, especially over the last five years, is that healthcare organizations are struggling to keep up. I think the amount of change and influence that’s coming from all variables and sectors is causing healthcare organizations to really ensure they have the top leadership in place, the highest performing teams, and the best and most highly qualified candidates they can find. I think there are going to be some really amazing stories that come out of medium, small, and large healthcare organizations over the next few years.
Gamble: Absolutely. It’s such an interesting time, and there’s so much to keep up with. But I think it’s a privilege to be part of the industry right now.
Brown: That’s exactly right. When we were talking earlier about all the different industries I’ve worked for, I say to folks, whether they are students or other colleagues who are looking for career advice or mentorship from me, that as a CIO or a technologist, there’s really no other place I’d rather be in healthcare.
Gamble: That’s about all you can ask for right?
Gamble: Well I’ve already kept you longer than I promised, so I’m sorry about that.
Brown: That’s okay.
Gamble: I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Brown: My pleasure.
Gamble: I’d like to speak with you more, but I really should let you go.
Brown: No, I really appreciate it. Thank you.
Gamble: Thank you so much.