It’s not the easiest situation to walk into, knowing you’re the third CIO who’s been charged with leading a transformation from paper to electronic. But Scott Mash was up to the task, and in just over a year, O’Bleness went from lacking a wireless network to going live on Paragon. And as the challenges continue — the organization enters into a membership agreement with Ohio Health, which most likely means making the switch to Epic down the road — Mash is poised to lead his team. In this interview, he talks about the advantages of merging with a large system and why he’s not stressing about making another major change in a few years. He also discusses the CIO’s role as road block remover, what he’s doing to lay the foundation to do “real IT work,” and why he hates cell phones.
- From higher ed to health IT — “I made the right choice”
- Enabling patient-facing technology
- “The light at the end of the go-live tunnel”
- Master’s of Science in leadership & IT
- Removing the roadblocks
- 5-minute huddles
- “I like to get as far away from technology as I can”
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Unfortunately, with those budget cuts, the expectations out of IT didn’t change. Folks were still expecting a Lamborghini when they had money to buy a two-door Chevy.
I get a lot of satisfaction when I talk to a nurse or a doctor and they say that they were able to dig in through the system and find that little tidbit of information so they could make a link with a diagnosis. That’s the part I like. I like that patient-facing technology.
It’s going to be painful. It’s going to hurt. But six months after go live, a light’s going to come on and you’re going to really see how you can use that system.
You get a lot of great IT people that, quite honestly, don’t have any customer service skills. They have problems talking in a means that the end-user can understand.
My job is just to take the road blocks out of their way. If they have a problem or if there’s something coming up that we’re going to need some funding for, that’s where my job is. I want to get out of the way of them working.
Gamble: I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your background. It’s been about a year or so that you’re in your current position, right?
Mash: Yeah, I joined in OBleness in October of 2012.
Gamble: And before that you were at Holzer?
Mash: I was the manager of clinical and ancillary applications at Holzer Health System; this was post-merger between Holzer Clinic and Holzer Medical Center. Prior to that, I was at Holzer Clinic as the manager of a computer services applications. And prior to that, I worked at Ohio University in a variety of roles, the last being director of regional and distributed IT.
Gamble: What made you interested in making the jump to the healthcare IT side?
Mash: Well, stepping back and looking at IT’s broad stroke across the different business sectors, IT in higher education — especially in Ohio — was becoming a challenge just because of the economy. We went through a series of compounding budget cuts over four or five years. Unfortunately, with those budget cuts, the expectations out of IT didn’t change. Folks were still expecting a Lamborghini when they had money to buy a two-door Chevy.
I was looking to see where there was some stability in IT — whether there was going to be growth, and where real innovation was happening. The healthcare sector caught my eye, and I was lucky enough to find a position where I had some good leadership and good peers that allowed me some time to grow and fed me the information necessary to make sure I was a success. Looking back, I made the right choice with the healthcare sector. There’s some money in healthcare that wasn’t in higher ed. And there’s a whole lot happening. There’s a lot going on with IT in the healthcare sector.
For me, I get a lot of satisfaction out of finding a way to use IT so that we can improve the healthcare of an individual person. That’s really what this Paragon System we’re implementing is all about. Granted, there’s a lot of front end work for folks to put in this data, but once you have the data, if we use it to make data-driven decisions for healthcare, whether it’s a population or an individual, we’ll have that information. For me, I get a lot of satisfaction when I talk to a nurse or a doctor and they say that they were able to dig in through the system and find that little tidbit of information so they could make a link with a diagnosis. That’s the part I like. I like that patient-facing technology.
Gamble: It’s almost like a light at the end of the tunnel. You have to get through the really difficult parts, but then, like you said, you start getting into the really cool uses of technology like chronic disease management and things like that.
Mash: Absolutely, and that’s what I try to tell the associates throughout the organization. It’s going to be painful. It’s going to hurt. But six months after go live, a light’s going to come on and you’re going to really see how you can use that system. Once you get past learning where to click, learning what data you got to put in, there’s going to come a point where the light’s going to come on and you’re going to say, ‘Wow, I was able to actually improve the health of this person or make this person better when they left.’
Gamble: It’s important to look at it that way. That thinking sometimes gets lost.
Mash: It does. It really does. I myself am guilty of looking at today and tomorrow — just trying to think how we can get the resources we need to make this happen. And really it’s not about today or tomorrow; it’s about that end state we never get to; in six months or a year, how are we improving this health system through technology?
Gamble: Right. Now I saw on your LinkedIn that you have a Master’s in science in leadership and IT.
Mash: Yes. When I was making the decision to pursue a Master’s degree, my wife had just finished up her MBA. A lot of folks have an MBA — I’m not knocking an MBA, it’s a great degree. But I was looking for something that had an IT portion to it, and Duquesne University offers a dual track Master’s that includes leadership and some specialization. Thankfully, they have that IT specialization in there. And it was the longest three years of my life. My wife and I were both employed full time. She’s actually in the healthcare sector as well, and we have three kids.
Mash: Yeah. Three kids, a full-time job, and a wife, and a mortgage. It was definitely a struggle, but I knew what to prepare for because my wife had just finished up her MBA.
Gamble: That’s a really great program, especially since there is a need for more people in the field with IT and leadership skills. It seems like a cutting-edge program.
Mash: Absolutely. Unfortunately most IT programs — whether it’s an MIS or it’s a pure Computer Science degree — focus on the technology. A lot of those programs don’t include customer service or leadership portions of the educational program, so you get a lot of great IT people that, quite honestly, don’t have any customer service skills. They have problems talking in a means that the end-user can understand. And so I highly recommend that Duquesne program for health IT or just really any specialization. That leadership portion was great.
Gamble: I would bet doing a program like that has played some role in how you’ve established your leadership style.
Mash: Absolutely. The style I’ve always used is ownership and accountability. I tell my folks, ‘the systems you’re over — you own them. You’re going to know them better than anybody.’ I ask them to not only learn the technology piece, but to also get out into the departments they support and at least get a fundamental understanding of the workflows that their system or application supports. Without that, they’re never going to be able to bridge the gap from the application to that end user, whether it’s in medical records or if it’s a registrar or if it’s a nurse. They have to understand the business they’re supporting, or they are never going to be able to really improve the system for that end user.
I hold them accountable. I make sure that they don’t sit in their chair and write code or write scripts or read the manual. I want them to go out and meet with their department. And really my job is just to take the road blocks out of their way. If they have a problem or if there’s something coming up that we’re going to need some funding for, that’s where my job is. My biggest thing is I want to get out of the way of them working.
Gamble: I’m sure it’s also important for you to really have the pulse of the people who work for you, whether it’s just being able to talk to them pretty often or do things like have quick little talks or huddles or things like that.
Mash: Since we’ve been nose-down in this project, communications kind of has not been where it should be. I try to hold at least a one-on-one meeting every other month with each staff member, and we have some regular staff meetings. Once we get past this project and a few other changes we have to make in the department, we’re going to do a 5-minute every morning meeting just to do some quick hits and make sure that we’re all moving down the same path. Right now with this implementation, everyone is working overtime. They’re already in a ton of meetings so I’m trying not to put more on their plate. They need time to build, time to test interfaces, and time to prep training materials. And so right now it is a challenge; it’s trying to communicate without taking their needed time.
Gamble: Sometimes the last thing you want to do is add another meeting to the mix.
Gamble: Now you said before you had three kids. How old are your kids?
Mash: I have two in college and one’s a sophomore in high school.
Gamble: Okay, so that takes up what little time you have left.
Mash: Absolutely. When I was working on my Master’s degree, at one point all three of them were in high school. All three were involved in athletics. A lot of times it was finally getting home at 10 p.m. and break open the book and start writing a paper.
Gamble: Now that you’re not taking the course anymore, it’s not like you have a ton of free time on your hands, but are there things that you like to do to get away from work?
Mash: Actually, I like to get as far away from technology as I can. My wife and I enjoy hiking and fishing. My youngest son is a wrestler. I try to help out with the wrestling team — just anything I can to get away from technology, because in today’s day and age, it’s really hard to get away. The worse invention in the world was the cell phone because I’ve got my work email going to my cell phone and my personal email. My wife and I catch ourselves at home sitting on the couch answering emails for work or prepping for the next day, and so when we make the decision we need to get away, we get away.
Gamble: Yeah, that’s so good. It’s so important. And I know what you mean — I’ve noticed that my husband and I will be sitting next to each other, both on our devices, and we’re like, ‘This isn’t right.’
Gamble: It is the nature of today’s world. I know we’ve touched on a lot and I really appreciate you taking some time to speak with us. So unless there’s anything else that you wanted to talk about, I figure I should let you go. I know you’ve got quite a few things going on.
Mash: I appreciate the opportunity.
Gamble: Thanks so much. And I really would like to catch up with you a little bit down the line to see how everything’s going.
Mash: Great. I’ll reach out to you once we get to the upgrade.
Gamble: Thank you so much, and good luck with everything.
Mash: All right, thanks.
Gamble: Thank you.