It’s been quite a year for first-time CIO Anne Lara. After taking the helm last December, she assessed the organization’s needs and crafted a five-part strategy to take Union Hospital to the next level. The first priority was to upgrade from Meditech Magic to the brand-new 6.1. But instead of starting from scratch, Lara quickly figured out that the best way to navigate tricky waters is with help — in this case, from the only other organization to adopt 6.1. In this interview, she talks about what it takes to create true partnerships, the fine line CIOs must walk to secure devices without hampering users, her plans to expand telemedicine programs at UHCC, and how she’s working to foster innovation and keep her staff motivated.
- Putting on the nursing & Siemens hats
- Jumping into the CIO role — “The hours are long, but I’m having a lot of fun.”
- Helping staff “spread their wings”
- Getting into the weeds
- Ken Blanchard’s school of thought
- Teaching nursing informatics — “It helps validate what we’re doing here.”
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Because I’ve had such a rich background and been afforded such great opportunities in my past lives, I just jumped in. I put my day-to-day operations hat on. I put my strategic hat on. I put my clinical hat on, and it all just came together.
I like to spend time with the frontline staff. That means sitting side by side with the clinical analyst as she goes through the workflow and tries to develop and configure a product — that’s what helps me.
I’m taking the risk along with them, and if there are consequences, the onus is on me, not on them. They need to know that. I think that fosters and promotes more of a spirit of innovation and a ‘let’s try it this way’ attitude.
It’s not just about nursing or doctoring a computer that’s not working; it’s about taking the system and the infrastructure and figuring out how to help support your customers.
It gives me a big picture view, and it helps to validate what we’re experiencing here. It also gives me an opportunity to get some new ideas for my students that I might be able to take away and use here at Union.
Gamble: You really have a diverse background, and I’m sure you’ve been able to draw upon those different experiences in the last year or so.
Gamble: Do you find that having that nursing background and the experience with the radiation oncology department is something that can give you a little bit more credibility with clinicians?
Lara: I think it helps. And again, for me, it’s a better understanding. For example, with the Meditech 6.1, I can jump in and say, ‘from a clinical workflow standpoint, does this help? Does this make sense?’ And I can also put my Siemens product management hat on and say, ‘Is this going to be usable’ or ‘this user interface looks a little clunky,’ or ‘what can we do to make the screens look better?’ I draw upon lots of different pieces of my life to bring it all together.
Gamble: Having the CIO role right now, you picked a pretty interesting time. There’s so much going on and so much to keep track of. What has the adjustment period been like? Are there resources or people you’ve turned to just with the questions, things like that?
Lara: It’s really interesting; I think that because I’ve had such a rich background and been afforded such great opportunities in my past lives, I just jumped in. I put my day-to-day operations hat on. I put my strategic hat on. I put my clinical hat on, and it all just came together. So for me, not to sound too Pollyanna, but it’s a great fit. I know the hospital work flow, and I know the software development world. It hasn’t been a difficult transition at all. And again, the folks at Union Hospital are very, very wonderful to work. They really live and breathe their core values, and so I felt very welcome and very comfortable in the role.
Gamble: It must be some validation that you took the right position.
Lara: It really is, and I’m excited about it. The hours are long, but I’m having a lot of fun. It’s all about people, and it’s all about helping people get to where they need to be. That, for me, has always been an underlying theme, and with our Meditech implementation, there’s a great opportunity to do that. With our disaster recovery site development, there are lots of opportunities. It goes back to my five I’s. If you’re talking about industry experts, it’s a great opportunity for folks in the HIS Department to show their stuff and spread their wings a little bit and take on some responsibilities that they may not have had the opportunity to do in the past. It’s guiding them and helping them as we get there.
Gamble: I’m glad you brought that up because one of the key issues is staff management — being able to get the most out of people and really engaging with the staff. I just wanted to hear some of your thoughts on that and what you do to try to motivate your staff.
Lara: That’s a great question. To begin with I have three wonderful directors. I have a director of clinical applications, a director of technology services, and a director of health information management. They make my life very easy. They’re wonderful at what they do. They have the respect of the organization. They’ve been at the facility for a while, and so they have a proven track record. They have been so engaging and helpful, especially when I first came, to get me oriented to what the world looks like. We have a very open communication style, and so we meet on a daily basis to say what’s going on so that we can all have an idea of what’s happening.
The other thing that I like to do is I like to spend time with the frontline staff. That means sitting side by side with the clinical analyst as she goes through the workflow and tries to develop and configure a product — that’s what helps me. And I also do that with the IT guys; the folks that are responsible for the infrastructure and the hardware — spending time with them.
I also take on smaller projects. For example, we are looking at a phlebotomy handheld solution. That’s my project, so I’ve been in the weeds, if you will, in terms of getting the application on the handheld device and going through the workflow. And that gave me an opportunity not only to move this particular solution forward, but also to work side by side with my staff to make that happen. I try to be open. Communication is key.
I also have adopted a philosophy Ken Blanchard used to say in one of his many, many writings. He said one of the key ways to keep people motivated is to catch them doing something right. I always try to recognize good performance and good behavior, because oftentimes you get mired in, ‘why did you do this,’ ‘why did you do it that way?’ And so I really have embraced Ken Blanchard’s philosophy of trying to catch people doing something right, and that feedback is the breakfast of champions. People need that. They need to know that they are doing a good job. You can’t catch doing right enough, because that fosters more and more of the right behavior.
Gamble: Certainly. I saw a comment on your LinkedIn page from Dan Pierce, IS Director at Union Hospital of Cecil County, and he said, ‘This is the first time in my career at Union that I feel someone actually does have my back.’ To me, it seems like that’s really critical for the staff to know that they have your support, and I would think that it’s really a priority for you to make sure that they know that.
Lara: It is, and again, you can’t say that enough. Being relatively new in the position, there’s that little testing phase, but again, all roads lead to me. I trust my staff. They keep me informed of what they’re doing. I’m going to have their back. I’m taking the risk along with them, and if there are consequences related to any type of risk we’re taking, the onus is on me, not on them. They need to know that. I think that fosters and promotes more of a spirit of innovation and a ‘let’s try it this way’ attitude. That’s just who I am.
Gamble: It’s interesting. We talk to CIOs from different parts of the country and a lot of people are dealing with challenges in retaining staff. Sometimes we hear about different programs that put in place, but I also hear that sometimes the best way to hold on to good people is to keep them motivated and to create a positive environment.
Lara: As I’m sure you can tell, there are plenty of projects right now that we have in the pipeline that are indeed keeping people motivated and engaged. Oftentimes it’s a matter of what positions are called, because for years we had what they call PC support specialists. And that was probably good back in the 80s and the 90s, but if you take a look at what some of those folks are doing, there’s a lot more. We’ve rebranded that role and we’re now calling it health IT support specialist to broaden the role. And it’s not just about nursing or doctoring a computer that’s not working; it’s about taking the system and the infrastructure and figuring out how to help support your customers using health information technology.
Gamble: Right. We see those outdated titles once in a while. And they’re definitely in need of updating.
Lara: It’s rebranding, right? Every once in a while you have to rebrand yourself. And that’s not only about products; it’s also about positions.
Gamble: The last thing I wanted to ask you about was something else I saw on LinkedIn. I saw that you’ve done some teaching. Is this something that you’re still able to do?
Lara: I do. It’s probably not as much as I used to in the past, but I still like to teach. I teach a couple of classes at Walden University in Nursing Informatics — those are online classes, and then I teach some nursing research classes at Wilmington University. So yes, I do try to keep my fingers and toes in that also. The nursing informatics classes are very interesting because one of the teaching strategies that’s employed is discussion boards. I have students from all over the world at Walden who are sharing their experiences with clinical information implementations and some of the challenges that the organizations are facing. It gives me a big picture view, and it helps to validate what we’re experiencing here. It also gives me an opportunity to get some new ideas for my students that I might be able to take away and use here at Union.
Gamble: So it’s something you get a lot out of.
Gamble: And you’re not stretched too much time-wise?
Lara: No. I like to be very busy. Over the years, I’ve become a master at managing my time and my energies.
Gamble: That’s a good skill to have. Okay, so I know we’ve touched on a lot. I didn’t know if there’s anything else you wanted to talk about, but this has been great. I think we’ve really got a great view of everything that you’re working on right now at Union.
Lara: Check back with me this time next year, and we’ll share with you our successful 6.1 implementation and we’ll tell you all those things that we’re doing from an ICD-10 perspective. Hopefully by that time we’ll have some of our other telemedicine initiatives in place, and I can share some information about that with you too.
Gamble: That would be great. It sounds like you’ve had a great first year.
Lara: Yes. I’m very happy and very excited. I have fun every day.
Gamble: That’s great. It shows; you can tell. All right, well thanks so much, and I will definitely check back with you in the future.
Lara: That sounds wonderful. Thanks again for the time.
Gamble: Sure thing.