There are few tasks that can better prepare one for the CIO role than leading an Epic rollout at organization like the University of Michigan Health System. It was the path that Dan Waltz took, and it has helped him enormously at MidMichigan, where he has held the CIO post since January. One of the most valuable lessons he learned? Letting physicians vent and not taking it personally. In this interview, Waltz talks about the importance of clinician engagement, how his leadership philosophy has evolved, his long-term goal of getting to one integrated system, the benefits of using consultants, and what he believes is the toughest part of being a CIO today.
- His career path
- “Taking the Epic project and being the lead gave me clinical experience.”
- Trust but verify
- Making patient care personal — “If it was my mom, what would I do?”
- Biggest obstacles for CIOs
- Long-term & short-term goals for MidMichigan
- Work-life balance
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I think you can empower quite a bit and you can trust people. That’s a very important part of the leadership relationship. But you also have to verify because you don’t want to get burned.
I always think about why I’m working in healthcare, and it’s because if my mom, my sister, my wife, or my kid comes in this health system, I want them to get the best possible care. I use that when I talk to my staff.
There are so many things to do, and you just don’t have enough resources to do them. I think that probably moves from the largest organization all the way down to our mid-sized organization to the small. You want to do so much more than you’re doing
With all the M&A activity happening, you don’t want to get caught with trying to support five or six different EMRs. It’s just not sustainable in the long run.
Gamble: Now this is your first CIO position. Was there anyone you turned to for advice or guiWaltzce, because it is a different animal?
Waltz: Actually, this is my second CIO position. What happened is when I worked at Chelsea Community Hospital from 1992 to 2000, I was the head of the IT shop there. I was a director, and in the last several years, I was promoted to CIO. That was before I went to Michigan in 2000. I did have some experience, but not with the EMR. So taking the Epic project and being the lead of that gave me the clinical experience that really rounded it out. My strengths prior to that were really patient accounting and finance and things like that. Then I got the opportunity to learn the clinical systems and learn governance and all those kind of things that make it happen.
I used people that I’ve worked for before as references. Glenn Isserstedt from Trinity was a mentor of mine, and Jocelyn DeWitt, who’s now at the University of Wisconsin Health System as CIO, who I worked with for a number of years. And I worked with Sue Shade from Partners just for maybe a year or so before I came here. We exchange information whenever we can.
Gamble: Right. And I’m sorry, I did see on your LinkedIn that you had a previous CIO role.
Waltz: No problem.
Gamble: So how would you describe your leadership style, and how it’s changed since or evolved since you first started?
Waltz: I think definitely empowerment, but also trust but verify — the Ronald Reagan cold war rule. I think you can empower quite a bit and you can trust people. That’s a very important part of the leadership relationship. But you also have to verify because you don’t want to get burned by having something not happen. So I’ve learned to manage a little more by data.
I think originally I was a more intuitive leader. I’ve become more of a data-driven leader as well as intuitive now. A lot of times I’ll ask my staff to provide dashboards — green, yellow, red on and dates of things that are supposed to happen, and try to hold them accountable for those dates so that we can stay on track. I’m just more aggressive trying to hit deadlines and trying to motivate people to really want to work in the organization.
I always think about why I’m working in healthcare, and it’s because if my mom, my sister, my wife, or my kid comes in this health system, I want them to get the best possible care. I use that when I talk to my staff. I’ll say, ‘If this was my mom here, what would you do?’ Sometimes they think differently when it’s one of their relatives or their wife or their kids in the health system. They think, ‘If that was mine, I would do this.’ Well, let’s do that then. That’s one of the things we try to do.
Gamble: What do you think is the toughest part about being a CIO now with everything going on?
Waltz: It’s just working with not enough resources. There are so many things to do, and you just don’t have enough resources to do them. I think that probably moves from the largest organization all the way down to our mid-sized organization to the small. You want to do so much more than you’re doing, and you want to get it done so much faster so that you can help people.
And then it’s making sure you picked the right priorities. That’s really a difficult thing. It’s spending a lot of time with people in the organization, talking to them about issues so that they know you’re engaged and you’re interested in their success.
Gamble: That’s got to be a tough line to walk. Now as far as the next year or so, is there anything we haven’t covered as far as any other big priorities on your plate or things that you’re focused on?
Waltz: Absolutely. We need to get the one system of record. If we’re going to continue our best-of-breed systems here, we have some major process problems because we don’t have one system of record for the patient. That is a high priority.
In the meantime, we are going through our strategic plan for IT and looking long-term at where we want to be in five years. I’ve got both short-term goals and long-term planning going on right now. I want to fix as many things in the current system as we can, and make some decisions long-term whether we really want to be best-of-breed or not. With all the M&A activity happening, you don’t want to get caught with trying to support five or six different EMRs. It’s just not sustainable in the long run.
Gamble: Are there any more short-term things you’re looking at?
Waltz: We’re really trying to clean up the lab. Somehow the lab systems got way behind here, as well as the patient accounting systems, so we’re looking at improving the workflow for a patient for when they come in for lab tests. We also want to get the independent physicians working much better — and when I say much better, have better interfaces with our orders and results to our lab systems.
And then we’re looking at automating a lot of manual processes in the patient accounting area and using products potentially that are transferable to an Allscripts or an Epic or a Cerner or whatever direction we decide to go. If we do add a RelayHealth insurance verification, for instance, and we already have several products in here, we need to pick one and then use that and make sure the contract is such that if we go to another platform, we can pick it up and move it. Those are the short-term goals right now, and then just optimizing the EMR on the inpatient side trying to keep up with Meaningful Use on an inpatient and outpatient. We have just tons of work going on in the organization.
Gamble: So much going on. And then especially when you have potential M&A, that’s a lot.
Gamble: That segues into one of the last things I wanted to ask and that’s about work-life balance, which is something that we hear a lot is a significant challenge. How do you approach that, just as far as wanting to have some time when you’re not knee-deep in all of your CIO priorities?
Waltz: It’s very interesting, because my wife actually lives in the Ann Arbor area and I have a duplex here in the Midland, and so she comes up here in the weekends or I go home on the weekends. Luckily for me, my three children are older — two of them are married and the other is a senior at Eastern Michigan. There’s no way I could have done this when my kids were younger. I used to coach travel baseball and basketball and varsity basketball and all those things; I would never have given those up.
Now my wife is a superintendent’s administrative assistant in the Saline area. She’s got board meetings and she’s got events she has to go during the week. We’ve been married 33 years. Our marriage is strong enough where we talk to each other every day and then we spend the weekends together. It’s actually going fairly well.
Gamble: How far away is Ann Arbor from where you are?
Waltz: It’s two hours. If there is an emergency or something that has to happen, I can drive home after work and come back. I haven’t had to do that, but it’s definitely available.
Gamble: That’s good. You have to find a system that works for you.
Waltz: Yes. The plan is when she hits the retirement age, which is coming up fairly soon in the school system, is finding a house here and having her move up here. That’s currently the plan. Then like this weekend my two boys and their wives came over and my daughter came over. We had a cookout. We do have a lot of family events. I’m very proud to say that our family still likes to get together and we’re actually going on vacation with them for a week in August. We rented a house up north and they’re all coming to the house for a week. When your 28-year-old and 26-year-old kids still come on vacation with you, it’s a lot of fun.
Gamble: Yeah, definitely. That’s a great thing to have.
Gamble: Okay, well we’ve talked about a lot. I think we’ve covered what I wanted to talk about. I’d definitely like to check back in with you at some point to see how everything’s going. There’s so much going on that even a little bit down the road, I’m sure we’ll have more to discuss.
Waltz: Well, Kate, I really appreciate your organization. I do go in and join some of the webinars and also appreciate that you record them and save them. It’s really nice to go look at a current event that might come up that you didn’t really think applied to you and then you go back and look and here is an event that you can look at and listen to. That’s really helpful to the CIOs, I’m sure.
Gamble: That’s great, thanks. We like to hear that.
Waltz: You’re welcome.
Gamble: Best of luck to you and I definitely would like to check back. Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Waltz: All right. Thanks, Kate.