Last spring, incoming CHIME CEO Russ Branzell talked about his plans to guide the organization into the future and expand both its offerings and its presence in healthcare. A year later, he’s made serious headway in delivering on that promise. Under Branzell’s leadership, CHIME has announced several new initiatives, including a CMIO Boot Camp and the formation of CIO advisory boards — all while working to shape legislation to meet the needs of health IT leaders. In the first of our semiannual interview series, Branzell discusses the challenges of working with politicians, CHIME’s goal in partnering with other healthcare organizations, and the need to move forward after the “disappointing” ICD-10 announcement.
- Reflecting on year one — “It’s been very exciting.”
- “Jumping into the Washington fray”
- CHIME as “the glue” that holds associations together
- The 80/20 rule
- Gaining momentum on patient matching
- Boot Camp for CMIOs
- CIO advisory boards
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When you can see the magnitude of change that’s occurring for the CIOs, organizations, and the industry as a whole, you realize the gravity of need of HIT in particular to really be a transformational component of this and help lead us through really some pretty dramatic change.
It is a learning curve to be able to understand how Washington really works. I thought I used to know what that meant, but now working within that structure, there are always so many different agendas going on.
If we can help be the glue that brings all these different individual associations together and all these different perspectives together, what we can actually do is create some common synergy and some common momentum toward dealing with the big issues that need to be fixed.
We’ve got this program. We’ve been doing it for 10 years, and it’s a great opportunity for us to take this program and tailor it for their individual associations.
Gamble: Hi Russ, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Branzell: Thank you very much for having me.
Gamble: We’re anxious to hear about everything going on at CHIME, but first I wanted to congratulate you. It’s been about a year since you started as CEO at CHIME, right?
Branzell: It will be a year on Friday.
Gamble: Wow. All right, so a pretty eventful year. Let’s start by talking a little bit about that — how you’d characterize your first year, and whether it’s been what you expected having this type of position.
Branzell: Thank you for asking that. It’s been a very exciting year, to say the least, both from a good perspective, as well as the overall workload of what’s happened in our industry over the last year. I truly expected that running into this position. I think the part that has probably surprised the most is just the degree and magnitude of change that’s occurring in the industry. When you’re working in those positions, you’re in your own little world. When you can see the magnitude of change that’s occurring for the CIOs, organizations, and the industry as a whole, you realize the gravity of need of HIT in particular to really be a transformational component of this and help lead us through really some pretty dramatic change, all of which is truly needed. We really have reached a point where IT in particular — and I say that from the perspective of the CIOs and the HIT leaders that are out there — is really at the forefront of that process change that’s going on.
Gamble: It seems like this was something where you didn’t exactly have a couple of months to get acquainted with things; you really did just have to jump right in.
Branzell: I think that’s part of the advantage of being in the role for so long; it really didn’t require me to make any kind of significant mental or physical transition, but rather just shift into doing what we’ve always done as volunteers, as board members, as CIOs in the industry — but now I do it full time. I think it’s been a big advantage for me in this role having lived and worked this for so long. The reality at that time in particular is that there was stuff going on that really required immediate attention while continuing to do the other things that we needed to do, with Meaningful Use at the time, and now, disappointingly, ICD-10 at that time and really trying to get all the things working in a synchronous way, it really was a great opportunity to jump in at that time.
Gamble: Was it tough to make that transition from going from the perspective of an individual organization to now this bird’s eye view of all the health systems in the US?
Branzell: I’d love to say that it was a piece of cake, but the reality is there were parts of it that were difficult transitions. Part of it was even getting out of the mindset of being in patient care every single day and the demands of a multi-faceted organization providing patient care, to working in an organization now that needs addressing and support from a completely nationalistic perspective. Again, that was a transition.
I think the part that was probably the hardest, even though I was dabbling in it as a CIO, was jumping into the Washington fray. It is a learning curve to be able to understand how Washington really works. I thought I used to know what that meant, but now working within that structure, there are always so many different agendas going on and politics going on and different people working on different initiatives. That’s required a significant amount of time to understand it, but also a significant amount of time to be able to be effective and work within that structure.
Gamble: I can imagine that the learning curve is especially steep when you’re talking about a time period like this, when there are so many things on the burner that strongly impact the health IT world.
Branzell: Absolutely, especially with things that are so important. Each has its own constituency and each has its own people with their unique perspective and agendas. And it takes a while to get around to all those different players and understand what their perspectives are, whether it’s the White House, the other administrative offices, whether that’s the legislative branch, whether that’s other associations, and then trying to paint a broad-stroking perspective of representing an organization made up of 1,400 CIOs, each with their own individual perspective, along with our 100-plus foundation firms, and making sure that what we’re doing is good for the industry as a whole, can present a little bit of a challenge.
Gamble: When we talked last year just before you started, you talked about wanting to guide CHIME into the future and expand on some of the offerings. I wanted to talk about that because it seems like there definitely has been a lot of new things that have come up, especially with some of the partnerships with organizations like AMDIS and AAMI.
Branzell: One of the things that we painted as a goal working with the board was that we could continue on being successful being just CHIME and doing things that were just for CHIME, or we could take a more grandiose or really more of a higher-level responsibility in the industry and that was to create partnerships and relationships where we could be effective in moving the entire industry. We started with that with AHIMA, all the HIM professionals, and we’ve worked with AMDIS, with AAMI, and really a whole myriad of other organizations we just recently, working from a standards perspective with HL7. Part of that is if we can help be the glue that brings all these different individual associations together and all these different perspectives together, what we can actually do is create some common synergy and some common momentum toward dealing with the big issues that need to be fixed in healthcare.
We’re very fortunate with who we are — the brand that the CIOs have brought for years and years and years, but I think the one thing that really has helped us is a perspective of collaboration, because that’s what CIOs do. We collaborate with the entire spectrum of healthcare in our organizations, so why shouldn’t we be collaborating with the entire spectrum of healthcare as an association?
Gamble: That’s something that I’m sure that works in your favor when you’re talking to other organizations about taking stance on certain issues like Meaningful Use 2, to have that unified front.
Branzell: It sounds almost cliché, but there really is an 80/20 rule out there that most of the time, 80 percent of what we’re dealing with we agree upon across every spectrum of other associations, other organizations, and even the federal government. But what ends up happening is we get so polarized with the 20 percent or less that we don’t agree on, that we forget to move that 80 percent in a united way. I think what’s really helped us now is that in working very collaboratively with the federal government, with other associations, whatever the case may be, we’ve been able to garner some momentum on really key issues such as patient matching.
Patient matching was really getting no attention, even at the federal government level. Through some collaboration with some other associations and really partnering with the federal government, ONC and CMS, last year we saw a significant shift — probably one of the most significant shifts I’ve seen in the federal government — going from ‘we won’t even talk about it,’ to ‘we’ll create a committee and fund the committee to start working on the development of patient matching.’ I think that was done because the right people are collaborating at the right time.
Gamble: That’s definitely a sign of progress. That was one of those issues that everybody in health IT seem to know was an issue, but it just wasn’t moving at all, and so that’s certainly encouraging. Now in terms of the partnerships are going to be leveraged to offer specialized programs for the CIO boot camp, is that something that’s happening yet?
Branzell: We are in the process of developing that right now where I’ll be working with AAMI (the Association of Advancement of Medical Instrumentation), which is biomed and clinical engineering, and AMDIS, which is the Chief Medical Information Officer association, and we’ll be working with them in partnership to offer a similar program for their professionals to our CIO boot camp. In this case, it will be a CMIO boot camp for AMDIS and a clinical engineering and biomedical boot camp for AAMI. What we’re doing is placing our program with some of our faculty to be developed with their teams to actually help advance that executive-level leadership in HIT and overall information management to try to help the industry as a whole up its leadership skills.
We’ve got this program. We’ve been doing it for 10 years, and it’s a great opportunity for us to take this program and tailor it for their individual associations. Again, it’s the 80/20 rule — 80 percent of the content really can be applicable to any of those organizations. Many of their members have gone through it because CIOs have sent them. Their members have actually attended our program; in some cases they’ve come to us, in some cases we really offered this up as an opportunity. But we’re excited about that. Those will be the first two, but I think there are many other organizations and associations that will take advantage of that.
Gamble: As far as the CIO advisory boards and putting together advisory services based on industry needs, what’s happening on that front?
Branzell: We have our first couple of pilots that are going on. The CIO advisory is really an opportunity for our foundation firms to take advantage of the knowledge and skills of our CIO membership. In many cases, CHIME historically — and very effectively — has been the foundation firm supporting the CIOs. What we want to do is add continued value for the foundation firm, our vendor partners, as well. The advisory services will be very similar to traditional advisory boards where CIOs and health IT professionals will be going into these organizations and helping them advance their services and give them strategic advice and planning advice.
We have our first two pilot organizations that are very close to launching that. We really can’t give the names out yet, but they’re very close to doing that, and we’re hoping by early summer we’ll start having our first advisory board meetings for those organizations. Again, it isn’t intended for everybody — many have their own advisory systems, but why set that up when we’re actually very experienced at doing this kind of facilitations?
Gamble: I’m sure that some of the organizations they could certainly benefit from that if they don’t have necessarily the wherewithal yet to have their own CIO advisory boards or participation or things like that.
Branzell: Absolutely. And what was interesting to us was when we went out to the membership to see how many CIOs would be interested in working on and participating in those type activities, a significant amount of our membership said they’d love to participate in events like that and be part of those advisory boards. One of the things you get worried about when you offer a service is if it’s too successful, do you have the manpower to support them? In this case, a vast majority of our CIOs at every level of experience were very interested in doing that.
Chapter 2 Coming Soon…