Transformation is word that tends to be misused, but in the case of Hospital Sisters Health System, it’s an accurate description of what’s happened over the past few years — as the organization completely changed its operating model — and what will continue to happen. One of the key leaders in this transformation is Kevin Groskreutz, who took on the role of Division CIO as HSHS was starting on the journey to becoming a cohesive health system. In this interview, he talks about the “constant conversation” needed to facilitate successful change management, the ever-changing role of IT in enabling change, how HSHS makes its multi-CIO model work, and the organization’s three-year plan. Groskreutz also talks about his own career path, how MU is changing the game, and what it’s like to get 14,000 people to start thinking as one.
- From IT manager to Division CIO
- HSHS’ transformation — “It has become a lot more transparent.”
- Consolidating IT services to enable “high capacity, high availability”
- Thinking like a for-profit
- MU — A step in the right direction, but “implementation was challenging.”
- Evolution of patient engagement
- “It’s enough to keep me busy for the next 20 years.”
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We were looking to transform, and so we were proactive and we started consolidating some of our IT solutions and data centers so that we had high capacity, high availability between the two sites and could back each other up.
We continue to have that mission, but with a focus that we still need to watch the bottom line in our profit centers and be as efficient as we possibly can. I think the organization now is at a very healthy blend of that and has become a lot more transparent.
As you implement policy, sometimes your intent is not actually how it gets implemented, and I think it’s a classic case with Meaningful Use.
I think we’ll see for a long period time yet a more hybrid approach to utilizing cloud technology and software as a service until we can get some confidence in the security models in place.
I think that model of just going in to see your care provider because you’re not feeling well will become more like, ‘I’m checking in.’ It’s more of a health coach or taking on the role of a health coach so that you can help the population manage their chronic diseases.
Gamble: How long have you been in your current position?
Groskreutz: I had taken on this position in mid-2011, so going on four years.
Gamble: And then prior to that, you had a different role within the organization?
Groskreutz: I was the IT manager. I initially started in the organization in 1999 and helped with the Y2K IT initiative that everybody remembers. There was a lot of press about that. But I started out at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls — that was a time when the organization was independent. And then after about five or six years in that role, we decided we really could have some economies of scale if we started working with Sacred Heart Hospital and their IT colleagues as well and start doing some things together. So we started talking about possibilities.
And then in 2010, we really started to ramp up some of the transformation as far as a division. This was something that we were doing independently of the health system. There were conversations within the health system, but the organization wasn’t quite ready. We were looking to transform, and so we were proactive and we started consolidating some of our IT solutions and data centers so that we had high capacity, high availability between the two sites and could back each other up. We took on a bunch of initiatives with that and really reduced our overall IT cost. Eventually we officially decided to start organizing not only IT but other departments as a division, so that we would have one leader over a particular service line. We started that in 2009 and I became the IT Director for the division.
Gamble: As far as the transition to Division CIO, how did that happen?
Groskreutz: My counterpart that had worked for Sacred Heart was the Division CIO, and he had left for a new position within the community, and so I stepped into the role.
Gamble: That certainly seemed like a natural progression with everything you’d been doing to step into that role.
Groskreutz: It was, yes. I’ve worked for a couple different organizations in manufacturing. One was an international organization, so the concept for me of enterprise IT was always natural. I’ve always promoted that thought and idea, so for me it’s a natural fit. It was a challenging thought initially with an organization that, hey, we can scale this a lot larger if we work together. It’s been a journey. It’s been very rewarding.
Gamble: That must be something you’re able to draw on, having that experience in manufacturing outside of this industry.
Groskreutz: Yes it has. I often drawn on that experience because a for-profit organization — and Hospital Sisters health system is a not-for-profit organization — tends to focus on different aspects of their business. I think now we’re coming to a fairly healthy blend of enterprising and still being at the core of the organization attached to the mission in serving the underprivileged and the marginalized. We continue to have that mission, but with a focus that we still need to watch the bottom line in our profit centers and be as efficient as we possibly can. I think the organization now is at a very healthy blend of that and has become a lot more transparent and has developed managers and directors and developed their business acumen skills and provided training so that not only clinically we’re sound, but we’re prepared on the business side to continue with the mission and make it work.
Gamble: That’s great. So in closing, I just wanted to get your thoughts on where things are headed with the industry. And even though we’ve heard a lot of criticism of Meaningful Use, whether you think that it is taking things in the right direction. What are your thoughts on that?
Groskreutz: I think the Meaningful Use guidelines and requirements were a good step in the right direction. As you implement policy, sometimes your intent is not actually how it gets implemented, and I think it’s a classic case with Meaningful Use. I think the policy makers had very good intentions, but the implementation of that was challenging. One of the challenges was really understanding that the timeline to implement that had created a lot of industry stress, and so a more conscious effort on the time limit I think would be a good thing in the future.
I think that really the next step is standardization; using existing standards, but going on the path of interoperability and getting healthcare data — at least the structured data — to be able to be shared among multiple providers, in an appropriate scenario, but in a seamless fashion. Similar to how you can transfer your personal finances around and get to that standards-based type of transactions, and then the IT costs become less or more economical. The challenge we face today is we have a multitude of proprietary IT solutions, and getting the data to exchange between systems — although it would help HL7 Standards of every vendor kind of modifies that or adds their flavor to the HL7 Standard — and then matching two disparate systems together it takes a lot IT effort.
In the future, if we can move the policymakers to help with leveraging existing standards so the health IT vendors can have time to implement that, I think that’s a good thing. And the next thing is really preparing the IT solutions to help interact with the mobile wave of devices that seemingly the whole population is going to have. We do really need to change so that the solutions interact with the mobile technology seamlessly, and that will be a challenge.
And then you have cloud data population health business analytics. Anthem was just recently in the news with their data breach, so IT security is a huge focus. We have a lot of trade publications really pressing the cloud window. I think we’ll see for a long period time yet a more hybrid approach to utilizing cloud technology and software as a service until we can get some confidence in the security models in place.
Gamble: That’s a really good point. Things like that are so scary. As a CIO, I can imagine the reaction when you see an organization like Anthem going through that.
Groskreutz: A lot of that is the fact that we need to invest more in security and helping the frontline colleagues understand the social engineering techniques, etc. I think the security programs and the education really need continued investment and focus and effort to protect everyone’s health data.
Gamble: These are really interesting times though. No doubt about that.
Groskreutz: Very interesting times, very interesting times. It’s fun to see the health industry catch up with the rest, either manufacturing or other type of service industries where they’ve analyzed data. Even retail had IT solutions in place for many years, and we’re just finally getting into this industry vertical where the applications are starting to mature where they become more solid in functionality and stability.
Gamble: Definitely, it’s very interesting. It’s good to see patient engagement become more of a priority. I think that that’s going to be a game changer and will be interesting to watch.
Groskreutz: I agree. The use of social media, I think, will become commonplace with care providers, the primary care physician or specialist, as they reach out to the community and their patients, providing them with trusted and accurate health advice in interaction. I think that model of just going in to see your care provider because you’re not feeling well or you have something going on, it will become more like, ‘I’m checking in.’ It’s more of a health coach or taking on the role of a health coach so that you can help the population manage their chronic diseases, whether it’s diabetes or weight management or a heart condition, so they’re able to interact and encourage them to have those healthy lifestyle behaviors and manage their care.
Gamble: Yeah, definitely. That’s enough to keep you busy for a while, right?
Groskreutz: It is. It’s enough to keep me busy for the next 20 years, which is good.
Gamble: Alright, we’ve definitely covered a lot, and I’ve really enjoyed hearing about everything your organization is doing. The transformation is really interesting, and our readers and listeners are definitely going to benefit from hearing about it. Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it.
Groskreutz: Thank you very much. You enjoy the day.
Gamble: Thank you, you too.