Many people talk about the need to be flexible and able to quickly adapt, but to Paul Foelsch, it’s more than just words. Throughout his 13-year tenure as CIO at Mercy, he’s had plenty of practice, whether it was developing a disaster recovery plan during the 2008 flood, learning that McKesson was shifting its focus to Paragon — just as his team was implementing Horizon, or moving to Iowa, only to find out there was no local HIMSS chapter. Each time, Foelsch has been able to adjust his strategy. In this interview, he talks about the major decision his team faces, the organization’s focus on patient engagement, and why CIOs must be willing to look outside the industry for solutions.
- Table-top scenarios — “You have to be ready to think fast.”
- Founding the Iowa HIMSS chapter
- “I try to give back a little bit for all the great things I’ve learned.”
- CHIME’s inaugural CHCIO program
- Looking outside the industry — “Why reinvent the wheel?”
- HIT & the “confluence of change”
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You need to understand the general process — who do you need to talk to, what do you need to consider, what’s available, and what isn’t, and be able to be flexible and quickly adapt to those changes.
It’s good to think through those, because even though you try to be as imaginative as you can, you can never predict what the next event will be. You just have to be ready to think fast.
I’ve always been a strong proponent of education and networking in all its forms.
We have a lot of the same, common problems and some unique solutions. It’s good to look outside the industry to see what else is going on and come back with some good ideas, or at least say, ‘Well, I’m not the only one dealing with this problem.’
We’re definitely sitting in the center of quite a bit of change, and frankly, one of the things I find is that it’s not the technologies that are difficult — it’s helping people deal with the change.
Gamble: You talked about how the hospital was on high ground so it wasn’t affected as much, and it reminded me of what we experienced in the New Jersey area last year with Hurricane Sandy. One of the CIOs I spoke with said their hospitals were fine but the physician practices were out of power for days on end, so they had to set up centers where the physicians could just come in and get the access they need for power and Internet, things like that. So I guess you really just have to be ready for a whole host of different scenarios.
Foelsch: We do annual tabletop scenarios and participate in several community and regional exercises, and any one of those is just, ‘okay, here is a scenario. How would you deal with that?’ You need to understand the general process — who do you need to talk to, what do you need to consider, what’s available, and what isn’t, and be able to be flexible and quickly adapt to those changes and be able to implement things quickly. That’s one of the things I find with these tabletop exercises; we can have a wide range of scenarios, whether it’s a major flooding event or a major snow storm, and say, how do you deal with these things?
Another tabletop we’ve done and participated in includes preparing for a major accident on the interstate. What are the ramifications? How do we quickly to scale up to handle these things? It’s good to think through those, because even though you try to be as imaginative as you can, you can never predict what the next event will be. You just have to be ready to think fast.
Gamble: You can try to prepare for every possible scenario but it really comes down to, like you said, being able to think on your feet and being able to prioritize and figure it out.
Foelsch: Yeah, that’s how we get through them.
Gamble: So the last area I wanted to touch on was your involvement in organizations like CHIME and HIMSS. I noticed that you’re currently involved and have been involved with several different organizations and just wanted to talk about how that helps you from a networking perspective, and also what you can actually learn and gain from that kind of activity?
Foelsch: I’d be happy to. I’ve always been a strong proponent of education and networking in all its forms. When I came to Iowa City a number of years ago, one of the first things I did was look for the local HIMSS chapter. I contacted national and they said, ‘You’re in Iowa? Yeah, there is no HIMSS chapter. Would you like to start one?’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ So I helped put together the paperwork and organize it and actually became the founding president of the Iowa HIMSS Chapter, which is now, as of last count, over 250 members strong, a little more than 10 years later.
I’ve always found HIMSS to be very helpful in being able to provide quality education and networking opportunities for myself and the staff alike. I always enjoy going to the HIMSS conferences. I’ve participated on a number of work groups, conference planning, presentations and so forth, and try to give back a little bit for all the great things I learned there as well. I continue to participate in that, and I’ve also participated in CHIME for number of years on the work groups, including the Certified Healthcare CIO Program. I was on the original team that helped develop that certification and was one of the first graduating classes to participate in that. I’ve always enjoyed the focus there and the ability to interact with foundation members and vendors and so forth.
Where I find that to be particularly helpful is not only in discussions with peers facing similar problems and looking for innovative solutions, but also in looking at broader trends within healthcare. I see that not only in the presentations, but also in talking with the vendors who, in some of the sessions, will say, ‘here are some things we’re looking at, give us your feedback. Here’s what we see. What do you see?’ It really generates some stimulating conversation looking at future trends, and I find that to be particularly helpful, both in going to the conferences and participating in some of the webinars.
At the local level, there’s actually a local CIO forum, which includes not only healthcare CIOs, but also CIOs from other areas such as financial, insurance, food distribution — a wide range of areas. We basically meet on a monthly or every other month basis, and one of the things we find that’s interesting is we have a lot of the same, common problems and some unique solutions. It’s good to look outside the industry to see what else is going on and come back with some good ideas, or at least say, ‘Well, I’m not the only one dealing with this problem.’ I’ve always been a strong proponent of networking, education, and getting out there, and I strongly recommended that anyone take the opportunity to avail yourself of these opportunities at the national, regional, and local levels, if possible. If you get the answer that there isn’t one, you can start a group.
Gamble: You said that was about 10 years ago.
Foelsch: Yes, a little over 10 years.
Gamble: And obviously there was a need for it.
Foelsch: I was very pleased to be able to help bring the group to fruition, and I made a lot of friends and golfing buddies too along the way, so there are always other advantages too.
Gamble: I think it’s really interesting that you speak to CIOs in other industries, because there’s always value in getting a different perspective and making sure you’re not doing things in a vacuum.
Foelsch: Absolutely. Why reinvent the wheel if somebody else invented an even better wheel?
Gamble: Exactly. All right, well we’ve touched on a lot of issues. I think we’ve covered everything I wanted to, but I just wanted to see if there’s anything else you wanted to talk about or just any thoughts you wanted to give on this really interesting time for the health IT industry.
Foelsch: Well, as I alluded to before, participating in organizations such as CHIME and HIMSS, reading up on all the industry information, and participating in such forums such as this is really helpful to get some of the understanding and information out there. We’re at a real confluence of change, whether it’s regulatory, financial and economic healthcare practices, you name it. We’re definitely sitting in the center of quite a bit of change, and frankly, one of the things I find is that it’s not the technologies that are difficult — it’s helping people deal with the change. It’s just so much change, and it’s difficult — not only for the users of the applications that we provide, but the staff as well, saying, ‘We have to change to another platform? We have to change other things?’ It’s helping people cope with that. I find that I spend a lot of time not only trying to look to the future to see what is coming down the pike and what might be having an impact, either nationally or locally, but also helping people deal with those changes and sort through that. I think that’s one of the roles that a CIO needs to really focus on — to help interpret that and guide people through all that change whether it’s technology, workflow, or any type of change.
Gamble: I absolutely agree. That’s a really great point, and I think that all the CIOs who read our site and listen to this are going to appreciate your perspective. And you never know, you might make some more contacts. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. I really appreciate it.
Foelsch: It’s my pleasure and I’d be happy to follow up on any of these topics. Thank you again.
Gamble: I’d like to catch up sometime down the road. Thank you very much.