Most leaders would like to think their organization is well-positioned for the future. But when your health system had the foresight to bring in futurists more than a decade ago to design a campus around the concept of patient-centric care, there’s no doubt about it. In this interview, Bill Lewkowski discusses the vision his team has and how they’re working to make it a reality, from building a clinical integrated network to viewing analytics as a core strategy. He also talks about the challenge of keeping the team focused during a pending acquisition (which eventually fell through), his plans bold plans with Epic, the cutting-edge work they’ve done with virtualization, and why it all comes down to having the right people.
- A culture of innovation
- Staff retention challenges
- Benefits of being small — “We can empower people to use innovation as a driver.”
- At Metro since 1996
- CIOs & project management
- Importance of ownership — “We’re all held empowered and accountable.”
- Work-life balance
LISTEN NOW USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR iTUNES PODCAST FEED
We have extremely good, creative, innovative, and smart people. They work with vendors to challenge them, to help work with their designers and engineers as to the kind of features and functions that we need to make happen in healthcare, and that has fostered them to not only have this continued focus on innovation and continue to improve that, but also keep them engaged.
We try to use the size to our advantage because if you go work for a very large organization, obviously you’re going to have a very large IT organization and you’re going to have a role that is more specific. You’re going to run into some more bureaucracy and you’re going to run into some limitation.
It’s a given that technology is enabler. It’s just a matter of how do we organize it, how do we prioritize it, how do we manage it, and how do we integrate our operational projects, our workflow, our processes across the delivery of care and tie it all together.
When we picked Epic, it was the clinicians that picked Epic. When we implemented Epic, it was the clinicians that were involved in helping to implement it. We were all held empowered but also accountable for all of this. That’s been a very healthy thing.
It’s not like back in the old days when it seemed like we were going from crisis to crisis and it was very difficult to be away. It has worked out, and I think a lot of that is just the great people we have and the ability for them to own and manage and make decisions.
Gamble: You’ve alluded a couple of times to talking with companies in Silicon Valley; all of this kind of adds up to really a culture of innovation. I know that that’s a goal for a lot of organizations, and I wanted to talk about how you can foster that culture and not make it something that’s kind of forced.
Lewkowski: Well, the thing I’m proud of the most is our staff and our people. We have the best people. We may be small; in fact, we are extremely small when compared to other Epic sites or even sites in the city, but we have extremely good, creative, innovative, and smart people. They come up with a lot of the ideas; they work with the vendors to challenge them, to help work with their designers and engineers as to the kind of features and functions that we need to make happen in healthcare, and that has fostered them to not only have this continued focus on innovation and continue to improve that, but also keep them engaged and excited about what we can do here.
Gamble: Yeah, that’s so important. I guess it’s probably one of those things where once people start to see it, they get more motivated and realize that they can kind of be a part of it.
Lewkowski: Well, it’s the real world. They’re seeing the technology enable interesting and very good things for the good of not only our workforce but also our patients, and it’s interesting. We have end users that have been in Metro for many years, and really they almost take for granted some of the innovation and technologies, but then we hear the stories of those that have gone the other organizations and we’re aware of where some other organizations are at around the country with their technologies. And we hear the stories back like, ‘wow, it is really different,’ and they realize that this is a unique place.
Gamble: Is that something that’s been an effective tool for either recruiting or holding on to good people?
Lewkowski: I think so. It’s been a challenge because, again, when you have really good people, really good people are being recruited. And especially around Epic as Epic expands within the state of Michigan, it’s really hard to keep really good people. It’s difficult for Metro and our size to be matching all of the things that a very, very large organization can offer to potential employees. So yeah, it’s a challenge. I think it’s one of the keys.
I think the other key is that our culture and our environment is unique. We’ve created a unique place for IT group to be. We have a separate building for IT. We’ve tried to relax it to be a little bit more like a high-tech company and all of that is, in a sense, trying to have really good people stay at Metro.
Gamble: I can imagine the challenge you face with that. It’s almost a double-edged sword that as people get more advanced in their use of Epic, it makes them more marketable, so you want people to advance, but it also makes it challenging for you as a leader.
Lewkowski: Well, we try to use the size to our advantage because if you go work for a very, very large organization, obviously you’re going to have a very, very large IT organization and you’re going to have a role that is probably a little bit more specific. You’re going to run into some more bureaucracy; you’re going to run into some limitation as to all the things that maybe you would like to potentially be involved in or creativity around innovation. And so if you can be organization that is smaller, there’s good with that because we can empower people to really take off on also their interest and to have that as part of their role and to use innovation as a driver, but give them the ability to expand what they do. We try to leverage as much as we possibly can.
Gamble: Okay, so you’ve been at Metro Health since 1996, is that right?
Lewkowski: Yeah, it’s hard to believe I’m going on 19 years here. I can’t even fathom that that amount of time has gone by already.
Gamble: I’m sure. And as you know, that’s pretty rare in this industry. What role did you start with at Metro?
Lewkowski: I started out as a CIO, although I originally did not report to the CEO. Within a couple of years of being here, I then did report to the CEO, and still do. I think the thing that has been really good at Metro is my boss, our CEO, has been here even longer than me, so that’s also rare.
My role has expanded — it’s not just IT. And I think being here so long with our strategies, with our successes, with our growth and with a small dedicated group, not only of the executive leaders but of the management team across Metro, it is just a fun place to be at, and likewise, time has flown by.
Gamble: Yeah, I’m sure. What do you think has been the biggest change just as far as the CIO role — I was going to say in the last couple of years, but maybe all along, and how do you think the role has changed the most?
Lewkowski: Well, for the industry, I think it’s been a natural progression that technology is an enabler in everything we do, and that includes the clinical side, it includes clinical equipment — everything’s a system now. Everything is network, it’s the network and the internet of things. It’s the connectivity of things. Privacy and security has ramped up to be extremely important; high availability and having technology that is reliable is extremely important.
You also need to make sure that you bring all your parts together with your applications and that your clinical context, your context of the patient in the center of it, this is all enabled by technology. So it just means that the CIO and the expanding role — at least my role here and I think at a lot of other organizations — is that I do help lead and organize a corporate project management office, so all our projects are managed through a common PMO process — not just IT projects, but of our projects.
Business intelligence and analytics, that’s obvious. Clinical engineering, that’s another area that we have. It’s also security and privacy and clinical informatics and having our nurses and our physicians actually have active roles in IT and helping to grow and enable and optimize how we use systems. All of this just means that the CIO is involved in pretty much all that’s going on across the organization.
Gamble: Right. There really isn’t much that you don’t touch in some way.
Lewkowski: The way we do it here at Metro though is we don’t have an IT strategic plan. I am sitting side-by-side with my other executive VPs. We are all in this together. We share this. It’s a given that technology is enabler. It’s just a matter of how do we organize it, how do we prioritize it, how do we manage it, and how do we integrate our operational projects, our workflow, our processes across the delivery of care and tie it all together.
Gamble: That’s interesting. Is that pretty much just been the way things have been done for a while or did things just kind of evolve in that direction?
Lewkowski: I don’t think it’s been like this for the 19 years I’ve been here, but it has evolved over time here and has certainly been the way that we’ve done things over the last seven to 10 years.
Gamble: Yeah, I can imagine that puts you at an advantage or is just a really good thing being part of this organization that 10 years ago was putting into place things that are now becoming so important for organizations in terms of the changing direction of care?
Lewkowski: When I hear about colleagues at other organizations that still look at IT as a separate department and the projects are IT projects and the failure of some projects, a lot of that just means that they really haven’t engaged or had the accountability of other parts of the organization to be all involved in this and owning this.
I think that’s something that we were able to achieve here at Metro long ago, that when we picked Epic, it was the clinicians that picked Epic. When we implemented Epic, it was the clinicians that were involved in helping to implement it. We were all held empowered but also accountable for all of this. That’s been a very healthy thing that we have and I don’t know other organizations that well, but I would assume that that’s happening more and more.
Gamble: That’s we’re hearing, and it’s a nice thing to be, like we said before, ahead of that curve. The last thing I wanted to ask you about was maintaining some kind of balance in life. Before the recording, you talked about how you recently went on vacation with three kids, college and high school age, and so I just wanted to talk about how you kind of maintain that balance of work and life, which is becoming less and less separate these days, it seems.
Lewkowski: Well, I think the part of the downside of some of the technologies is the fact that we’re always connected. I use that to the positive. I have a very balanced schedule both with my family and my work.
The blessing I have is that I have really good people that work for me. They have grown to be excellent leaders and managers themselves, and so I don’t have that much to worry about from an operational standpoint or from a project standpoint. We don’t really have a lot of crises or problems here. It’s a very managed organization, and so when I go on vacation, which I just got back from, I may have had a couple of calls, but it’s not like back in the old days when it seemed like we were going from crisis to crisis and it was very difficult to be away. It has worked out, and I think a lot of that is just the great people we have and the ability for them to own and manage and make decisions. That’s all helped make a good life balance.
Gamble: I guess it really does keep coming down to having the right people in place.
Lewkowski: Yeah, that’s key.
Gamble: All right, well we’ve definitely touched on a lot and I really appreciate your time. I’d love to follow up with you a little bit down the road to see how everything’s going.
Lewkowski: That’d be just fine and I appreciate you taking the time to learn a little about Metro.
Gamble: Definitely. Thanks so much, and I definitely look forward to catching up with you again.