At St. Joseph Health, a primary focus across the organization is to give time back to clinicians by improving flow and ease of use. And to the IT department at the 16-hospital system, that has meant transforming the way they interact with care providers, and adopting the mantra of ‘people before tickets,’ according to David Baker. In this interview, he talks some of his team’s key initiatives, including efforts to standardize all of the hospitals to the same version of Meditech, create a platform to facilitate better communication among the staff, and move toward a virtualized environment. Baker also discusses the importance of leadership buy-in with any project, why it’s critical to push the boundaries, and the unique path that took him to his current role.
- Innovation Institute’s Shark Tank sessions
- “Ever-maturing” security roadmap
- Taking a page from finance
- “Blend of responsibilities” as VP of IT
- From “cutthroat” industries to healthcare — “I wasn’t sure what to expect”
- Rounding & interacting with the staff
- Building a diverse team
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They’re working through all of our hospitals to say, ‘here we are, and this is what we do. If anyone’s got a phenomenal idea — and it could be anything; it could be a medical connector, a cleaning device, or the next huge IT idea — bring it to us.’
We’re moving into a good space where we really do know who has access to what and our corporate data is safeguarded. It’s big business; making sure that stuff is sound, and it’s paramount for us as an organization.
What excites me is working on the innovation side of the house and embracing some of the new technology to see how we can make our end users’ lives a bit better.
People have been used to doing things the way they’ve done for a long time, and it’s just been absolutely turned on its head, which is exciting from an entrepreneurial standpoint. Because you can get in there and see where you can channel that positive disruption.
It’s helpful to have people that are laser-focused on healthcare and draw from those, but I think it’s important to have a diverse team. A lot of the people we work with are from all sorts of other industries, and sometimes it’s those fresh eyes that bring ideas that are needed.
Gamble: There’s an Innovation Institute that’s part of the organization — how exactly does that work as far as the relationship there?
Baker: Those guys are a part of St. Joe’s. There are several interesting companies. Innovation Institute is a company that was put together with a solid fund that is ready to invest in any idea really, but initially, predominantly the biotech and pharma-type industries. There’s almost Shark Tank sessions in-house. They really do encourage anybody with an idea to come forward, and they’ll say what they can make of that. They’ve got several active investments ongoing, and they’re always actively working through all of our hospitals to speak to the entire staff and associated communities to say, ‘here we are, and this is what we do. If anyone’s got a phenomenal idea — and it could be anything; it could be a medical connector, a cleaning device, or the next huge IT idea — bring it to us.’ It’s a really interesting spot; great offices and we know their leadership team really well. It’s just a privilege to work in a company that is as forward thinking.
Gamble: I would imagine that as a CIO to have access to something like that is a really nice benefit.
Baker: Absolutely. There are many and varied areas where you can tap into the creativity of individuals; I think it’s how you go about it. There’s many programs internally for operational ideas and just making things better from the lean programs we run and how we can eliminate waste daily, all the way through these big ideas where it would involve spinning up another company internally to deal with a business need and serve a community possibly. So yeah, it’s great. There’s just multiple channels through all of this where all this creative energy can be focused. I think internally that you will see the top down begin to bubble up; the folks that want more and have this burning ambition to do something greater and serve the greater good is a way to an open door and a channel for them to look at.
Gamble: One of the topics I wanted to be sure I do touch on is security. When we’re talking about so many new initiatives, it’s something that is a huge concern and a huge priority, and I just wanted to get some of your thoughts on security and your strategy for dealing with the proliferation of devices and what that means in terms of the information that’s out there.
Baker: Yes, the Internet of Things. It’s obviously always a top concern for us. Our internal security group now is structured very closely with our chief security officer. We work closely with those guys. Our security roadmap is ever maturing. I think we’re in a good spot from the perspective of even outside of the actual pieces of hardware that connect. The biggest problem I would say is who has the information; who has access to our information, and ultimately, how do we make sure that PHI is safeguarded.
Our identity management system is something I’m really familiar with. For every new app and person that is onboarded, we look at it through the lens of what are they going to see, what should they see, and who is going to attest for them to say, they should be seeing and working on that. It can always be more mature, but I think we’re moving into a good space where we really do know who has access to what and our corporate data is safeguarded. It’s big business; making sure that stuff is sound, and it’s paramount for us as an organization.
I always look at the financial models. I think we follow a lot of the financial footprint. If you think about it, probably some of the most mature industries in identity and security are banks, for obvious reasons. You’re messing with people’s money. I like to look at what they’re doing because some of their stuff is really very mature, and we follow in the footsteps and mold it into the healthcare model.
Gamble: Okay. So how long have you been at St. Joseph’s?
Baker: I’ve been at St. Joe’s now coming up on 5 years. I had a company I sold it in the UK, and then had the opportunity to come over to the US. I picked up a contract with St. Joe’s back in the day. Like I said, it’s a very progressive company, and I worked my way through several roles. I’ve seen all sides of the business, from running the IT environment in a hospital, all the way through to running multiple teams and to doing what I do now, which is responsible for all of the end user experience across the enterprise from an IT perspective, as well as working on a lot of this new technology deployment and the web applications group. So there’s a blend of responsibilities. It’s kind of unusual, but I enjoy getting the operational stuff right, because I believe there are good formulas that you can get in place at baseline. What excites me is working on the innovation side of the house and embracing some of the new technology to see how we can make our end users’ lives a bit better.
Gamble: It seems like you were able to make a pretty rapid climb. Do you attribute a lot of that to, like you said, the organization being progressive and the opportunity just coming at the right time?
Baker: I do. It was the right time. It’s the fact that you’re delivering stuff and you have a vision; it’s more than just punching in every day. I started off on a contract just running a program for these guys and then worked through several positions. It’s been progressive. It doesn’t just drop on your lap, but I think that, especially here, they’re open to listening. The proof is in the pudding, as we say back home, and if you can show the results through delivery, I think then there’s lots and lots of opportunity.
I’ve really enjoyed my time here. In all honesty, I didn’t see myself ever working full-time again. I’d always been in consultancy-based roles, and I enjoyed that. This has been a really different experience to be in the US, and then to be in an industry — the healthcare vertical — that is just open for disruption right now. That’s what’s exciting. I think historically it may have been seen like the gravy train to an extent. It’s probably a little stale. People have been used to doing things the way they’ve done for a long time, and it’s just been absolutely turned on its head, which is exciting from an entrepreneurial standpoint. Because you can get in there and see where you can channel that positive disruption and really, really get ahead of the game by just doing some bleeding edge stuff.
Gamble: And is that what appealed to you about getting into this industry — seeing that it was finally starting to evolve a little more than it had been in the past?
Baker: Yes. Plus, my background was dealing with a lot of transportation and finance and startups. It was more of a cutthroat background. So when I imagined coming to work for a not-profit healthcare, I wasn’t too sure what to anticipate. I didn’t come in with high expectations, but this place has really been inspirational in the way company was founded. The value system that they created is just great; I think that’s the difference to me. You see the difference you can make. In other companies, it’s really about can we grow the company? How much money can we make? Are we doing fun stuff?
I spend a lot of time out on the hospital floor with this staff here, and you see so much life and so much interaction and so many ways that you can improve upon those situations, and you go away and then you put these ideas to work and before you know it, there’s something new. It may be small and sometimes it’s huge. There’s something from a technology perspective about making peoples’ lives better out on the hospital floor, and that’s what it’s all about.
Gamble: I’m sure that you’ve benefitted from the other roles you had in areas like transportation and been able to leverage that experience and bring it into healthcare IT.
Baker: It’s always great. I enjoy working with folks that have had a cross-section of experience. It’s helpful to have people that are laser-focused on healthcare and draw from those, but I think it’s important to have a diverse team. A lot of the people we work with are from all sorts of other industries, and sometimes it’s those fresh eyes that bring ideas that are needed and maybe wouldn’t have previously been thought of if you spent your whole life in that healthcare track. I think you need a blend.
You definitely also need fresh ideas. Some of the initiatives we get involved in and the companies that we’ve purchased have that real Silicone Valley feel to it where it’s like a startup. How do we get involved and sometimes acquire some of these folks and bring that energy, that fresh knowledge, and that new mindset in-house. Because it’s contagious.
Gamble: I can imagine. Well that covers what I wanted to talk about for now. I definitely would like to catch up with you down the road because I’m sure there’s lots more to talk about, but I’m really grateful for the time you’ve given us today.
Baker: Sure, absolutely. It’s good to speak to you. Feel free to stay in touch.
Gamble: Sure thing.
Baker: Alright. Good to speak to you. Thanks.
Gamble: Thank you.