When Don Reichert came to MetroHealth six years ago, he had three goals: achieve Stage 6, then Stage 7 recognition, and win a HIMSS Davies Award. Not bad for a safety-net hospital that neighbors two very prestigious systems, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. But with the support of the executive team and buy-in from the staff, the dream became a reality. In this interview, Reichert talks about MetroHealth’s multi-year journey from best-of-breed to a core vendor strategy; how he’s been able to lead major change at two different organizations; and how taking analytics to the next level is similar to implementing an EHR. He also shares his thoughts on vendor management — something CIOs aren’t doing as effectively as they can, and the balance leaders walk of taking risks without alienating senior executives.
- Competing with “the big boys.”
- Vendor management — “Both parties must be open & transparent.”
- IT as a facilitator
- Regular calls with Judy Faulkner — “She listens. This is her baby.”
- Stage 7 milestone at NorthShore
- Coming to MetroHealth — “There was some good talent here.”
- Earning the exec team’s trust
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We’re up there with all the big boys. In some cases, we’re ahead of the big boys. It’s just how you manage the process and how you go about selling it to the organization, and then ultimately, delivering on your promise.
It’s important that you have a good working relationship with the core vendors that you select, and that both parties are open and transparent. Because there’s going to be good days, and there’s going to be bad days. At the end of the day, you need to make sure that your egos are checked and you’re working toward the common goal.
They didn’t want to be on the cutting edge, but they wanted to be on the knife. To me, working for organizations like that are game changers. You’re willing to take a little risk. If you have good planning and good processes, things will work out, and you will do well.
There was some good talent here. It was also evaluating people that you recognize had more talent than the position that they were in. And you have the opportunity to grow them and get them to the right position on the bus. That was the key.
You have to take risks, but you also have to communicate those risks to your senior execs. That’s the key. How much risk as an organization can we tolerate? It’s a joint decision. I’m making a recommendation.
Gamble: It’s interesting because everything that you have to do to achieve Stage 6 and 7 are things that you want to do anyway as an organization. So it’s not just about getting this designation, but it seems like it really does serve as a really useful benchmark in telling you what you need to do to be a top organization.
Reichert: Absolutely. You look at the Davies Award, I think there are only 52 people in the world that have received that award. You look at HIMSS Stage 7, and just in the United States, I think it’s around 4 percent of the hospitals are Stage 7. That number is somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 facilities, and you’re in the top 4 percent of the country. Like I said, we’re a safety net hospital. We don’t have a billion dollars in the bank like people like the Clinic or Johns Hopkins or Mayo. If you put your mind to it, if you make the right decisions through the process and you have the commitment, you can afford the best product. Epic and Cerner are the top two products out there in the marketplace, and we’re using their systems. We’re up there with all the big boys. In some cases, we’re ahead of the big boys. It’s just how you manage the process and how you go about selling it to the organization, and then ultimately, delivering on your promise.
Gamble: You mentioned what you guys did with Epic in working to develop the solution with the people who are in jail. That’s interesting to me too because it’s an example of vendor management that I don’t think we see that much where CIOs and other executives are pushing their vendors. Can you just talk a little bit about your philosophy there and what CIOs need to be doing to really get the most out of these investments?
Reichert: I think it’s important that you have a good working relationship with the core vendors that you select, and that both parties are open and transparent. Because there’s going to be good days, and there’s going to be bad days. At the end of the day, you need to make sure that your egos are checked at the door and you’re working toward the common goal. I think a lot of times, on the vendor side, they’re so focused on ‘I have to sell you another product,’ that they forget — wait a minute, what am I doing to optimize the product that I bought three years ago?
I find myself always looking back and saying, alright, we’ve installed system A, and day 1 we’re using 60 percent of the system. What are we doing to go back to work on that other 40 percent? And really, that’s the hardest stuff to get because you have to be focused, you have to be disciplined, you have to work with your vendor, you have to have some type of transformation or project management within your organization that is helping you along. Because as IT, you can’t do it by yourself and you shouldn’t. IT should be a facilitator to help push that — to get people at the table from all parties to help drive that. Some vendors are easier than others to work with. The one thing that I like is we have a call, I believe, every other month with Judy Faulkner.
Gamble: Oh wow.
Reichert: That is huge.
Reichert: I don’t have that relationship with the gentlemen from Cisco or from Microsoft. I’m not calling that level of person to talk through that. And sometimes I think, should I? Is there value in that? I know with Judy, there’s a hundred percent value.
Gamble: I’m sure. Yeah.
Reichert: She listens. This is her baby — she didn’t acquire it, she developed everything from scratch. She is committed. And once again, I don’t find that with every organization that I deal with. I think that’s a game changer.
Gamble: Yeah, definitely. To have the ear of the CEO is amazing.
Reichert: Right. And like I said, it’s six times a year that we’re having that discussion. And it’s not a long discussion; it’s an hour.
Gamble: And you said you’ve been with the organization about six years now?
Reichert: I have.
Gamble: And you weren’t originally brought in as CIO?
Reichert: I was not. I was brought in as the Senior Director of Applications. Prior to that, I worked at NorthShore University Health System, which was formerly Evanston Northwestern. I was the Vice President and Chief Systems Officer there for five years. They were an Epic client as well.
Gamble: So you had some familiarity with it going in, which I’m sure was helpful.
Reichert: It’s helpful. The interesting thing is NorthShore University Health System, when I showed up, was probably between a Stage 4 and a Stage 5 on the HIMSS Analytics scale. A lot of the stuff that I did to get to Stage 6 and Stage 7, I did at another hospital. So when I came there, I helped them get to Stage 7. We were actually the first Stage 7 hospital in the country. So I had a lot of experience with Epic, and I had a lot of experience getting there.
Prior to that, I was in Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. That hospital was a McKesson shop at that time, and it was the top site in the country for site visits. We probably did 75 sites and that’s a year. We had it nailed down. And of course, they were in Alpharetta, so it was a three-hour drive away, which was a very similar set up when I was working in Chicago and we were about two and a half hours away from Epic. In both instances, a lot of time was spent working at that level.
My CIO at Spartanburg, his relationship with McKesson was at the CEO level. We were one of the very few people in the country to get all of McKesson’s systems working together, because McKesson was a totally different animal. They developed stuff. They bought stuff. Just that transition of buying a company and then incorporating the code into your code — that can take a two to four-year process. You have culture issues, etc. At that point in time I had to give them credit, because that time, and we’re talking in the 90s, early 2000s, and McKesson was up there as one of the top systems.
I had a lot of experience working with organizations all along the way that were very progressive in pushing technology. As I always say, they didn’t want to be on the cutting edge, but they wanted to be on the knife. To me, working for organizations like that are game changers. You’re willing to take a little risk. If you have good planning and good processes, things will work out, and you will do well.
Gamble: Now, when you went from NorthShore to MetroHealth knowing that that there was a big task ahead and having these big goals, was there any hesitancy with that at all having to dive back in there?
Reichert: Not for me, no. I was at the point at NorthShore where we had done a lot in five years; we accomplished a lot. It was like, okay, what’s next? When I heard through a friend that the Metro position was open, 1) it gave me an opportunity to move back to the state of Ohio where I’m from, and 2) there were a lot of broken pieces here, and I looked at it as the only way we could go is up. And that’s the challenge — how far can you push the envelope?
Gamble: Did you feel like in terms of the IT shop that there was good talent in place, but maybe it just needed different direction or it was just not really being leveraged as much as it could?
Reichert: I think both. There was some good talent here. It was also evaluating people that you recognize had more talent than the position that they were in. And you have the opportunity to grow them and get them to the right position on the bus. That was the key. Certainly during that process when I first started here, people were always like, do we want to outsource? Do we just want to blow up the department and do something totally different? It’s like, guys you’ve got a good core, let’s work on it. When I walked in the door, there were 22 positions that were open, and there were 125 positions. That’s huge.
Gamble: That’s a really big chunk.
Reichert: I looked at it as hiring 22 people. Number one, I have a good core, and then if we hire 20 people and that’s our second core, that’s 40 people out of 125. You’re almost at half, and that’s going to really drive the department. You can start now becoming a game changer, and that’s what we did as a group.
Gamble: It is interesting because you see it as a challenge, but you can see where some people might be turned off. I think that’s why you’re in the right role for your personality and not being afraid of the challenge. I think that would a dangerous thing for a CIO today.
Reichert: Right. You can’t be afraid. You have to take risks, but you also have to communicate those risks to your senior execs. That’s the key. How much risk as an organization can we tolerate? It’s a joint decision. I’m making a recommendation. I throw it up on the wall like a wet noodle and I critique it ‘till the stars come out, and we’ll be better for it in the end. That’s how you get to buy in. That’s how you get the support. And then by rolling things out like this and rolling them out well, and having successes, you as a person build your credibility and increase your trust level. So ultimately, at the end of the day when you have these really hard decisions, people trust you. They’ll support you. You may not at the end of the day have a good install or something like that, but they’re there to pick you up.
Gamble: Absolutely. Well, I’ve definitely taken up a lot of your time, but I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about what your organization is doing and giving your perspective. I think that this is really going to be useful for our audience, so thank you so much.
Reichert: Sure. You’re more than welcome.
Gamble: I’d definitely like to follow up with you down the road and just see how everything is going, especially on the population health front.
Gamble: Great. Well, thank you so much, and I will be in touch.
Reichert: Alright, I’ll talk to you later.
Chapter 3 Coming Soon…