There are two areas that have become a passion for Keith Perry. The first is finding a better way for researchers to collaborate (which, in turn, can lead to improved outcomes), and the second is growing the pool of health IT talent that can take the industry to the next level. At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where he has held the CIO since the summer of 2015, Perry is working with his team to achieve those and other goals. In this interview, he talks about how the organization is leveraging data to improve the patient experience, the challenge in redefining workflows to make sure they reflect clinicians’ evolving needs, and what it was like to start a new role after 13 years at MD Anderson.
- Patient advisory council
- A collaborative research environment
- Building the IT talent pipeline — “We need to do better.”
- Jude’s cloud journey
- The big pay-off
- Interacting with patients — “That has really grounded me.”
- Hitting reset after 13 years
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Our goal is to not hold on to knowledge — our goal is to be stewards of the American people’s money. Our goal is to look at how can we create an environment for researchers and collaborators that are not part of St. Jude to run analysis and do discovery on the data that we’re producing.
We’ve got programs in place looking at how do we train the future, how do we engage with building a pipeline of talent for those coming out of college and getting them interested in healthcare IT. It’s a soapbox for me, and something I think the industry does a pretty poor job with.
That’s a business model that’s going to sustain itself, as opposed to having a collaborator say, ‘I need a copy of that data and then I need a local high performance computer environment in order to process that data.’ We see there’s a shift to those repeatable processes where you can use a cloud-based infrastructure.
It was a hard decision to leave and go to an environment where you’re basically starting over. You’re hitting reset on all the go-to people you knew that could get things done, and you’re having to build and develop relationships. That takes time.
Gamble: As far as using mobile technology, I’m sure that that’s become really a lot more common especially since most of your patients as you said do not stay overnight; so really keeping that communication with them, I imagine, has been a priority.
Perry: It is. We have ways to do that today because they’re at our housing facilities when they’re staying overnight. We’re a campus-based organization with a secure perimeter — you’re only getting on the campus if you have a business need to be here, or you’re a patient or a family member.
And so we’ve taken the first step in releasing a mobile application to our employee population to let them know what’s happening on campus — anything from food trucks to what’s in the cafeteria, to what events, seminars or conferences are happening, and other ways to engage our employees in what’s happening. We started with employees because we saw the need there, but we’re actually moving that to our patients and their family members as well because there’s a lot more going on in terms of either engaging them in their care but also letting them know what’s happening in the facility that they’re staying in.
We have special events in our Target house that are directed to those families; and so, we wanted a way to reach out and provide that information through mobile technology as opposed to just printing up flyers and posting them on doors.
Gamble: I imagine it’s interesting when you’re dealing with patients who are either pre-teens or teenagers who, as we know, are very tech-savvy. Have you seen a change in that as far as making things available to them that they can use, whether it’s reminders or just being able to access more information through their phones or computer?
Perry: We have, and we’ve had several conversations with them. We’ve got a separate patient advisory council and we’ve been in conversations with our leadership about how do we go about exposing data to our patients in a more meaningful way. We just opened three new floors within our inpatient facility, and that is really driven by technology. There’s a separate room that’s really floor to ceiling — or actually floor to half the ceiling — with immersive technology that allows our patients and their family members to engage, whether that be watching a movie or just immersing themselves in 3D technology. That’s been cool, in addition to what we see in some of the patient rooms, by allowing them to use technology to change the lights, and through the technology that surrounds each room in terms of letting the caregivers know who’s in the room and what’s happening. It’s been cool to see how technology is really playing a role in the future of the healthcare experience.
Gamble: Okay. You already mentioned several things, but are there any other major priorities or projects that you’re looking at for the next year or so?
Perry: There are. I’ve walked through a lot of our clinical priorities and some of our research priorities in terms of the explosion of data. We see cloud as having huge potential for us because, again, our goal is to not hold on to knowledge or to hold on to information — our goal is to be stewards of the American people’s money. Our goal is to look at how can we create an environment for researchers and collaborators that are not part of St. Jude to run analysis and do discovery on the data that we’re producing, or to use our data to develop new tools to advance the field of medicine.
We’re actually in the process of a pretty large campus expansion project. As such, that’s really challenging us to build a new fiber underground network in order to support the future of science. We’re taking that opportunity to do expansion plans. There are several buildings coming down, including our current data center, so we can build a new data center and build up a fiber ring around campus to support where we’re going in the future. In addition to that, we’re implementing a new patient accounting application.
One of the things we’re doing as well is focusing on how do we continue to grow our most valuable resource, which is our talent from an IT perspective. We’ve got programs in place looking at how do we train the future, how do we engage with building a pipeline of talent for those coming out of college and getting them interested in healthcare IT. It’s a soapbox for me, and something I think the industry does a pretty poor job with. We need to do better. So we have all kinds of priorities for this next fiscal year.
Gamble: As far as the cloud journey, you’re in the early stages at this point?
Perry: We are. We already have somewhat of a cloud strategy around data. What we’re trying to do is wrap that around kind of an ecosystem to create a St. Jude cloud infrastructure that would allow people to access data collaboratively as opposed to the shipping and downloading model that you see today in a traditional research environment.
Gamble: Are you finding there is some hesitation still with the cloud from the users?
Perry: There was initially because just the general, people’s general perspective of the cloud technology. We’ve had to work through some latency issues as far as these massive datasets and get them to the cloud, but what we’re seeing is that there’s a unique business model that once you have a pipeline defined, it’s really a repeatable process, importing that to the cloud and allowing a model where your data is on the cloud and then a pipeline is running using cloud infrastructure — that’s a business model that we see that’s going to sustain itself, as opposed to having a collaborator say, ‘I need a copy of that data and then I need a local high performance computer environment in order to process that data.’ We see there’s a shift to those repeatable processes where you can use a cloud-based infrastructure.
Gamble: Right. And as you mentioned earlier, you’re also working on workflows and making sure the EHR is best serving the clinicians. So certainly a lot on your plate at this point.
Perry: We have a lot going on and we have a really good team focusing on it. I’ve told the team that this is the year of a lot of the hard work will start to pay off. We have a lot of initiatives that are either planned to come to fruition in the first part of this fiscal year or toward the end of it. A lot of hard work has gotten us to this point.
Gamble: Right. And you’ve been there since summer of 2015, so about a year and a half or so?
Gamble: Coming from MD Anderson, where you had been for quite a while, what was it like to make the adjustment? You mentioned what attracted you to St. Jude’s, but where there challenges in going to a new organization — one focused on pediatric care?
Perry: Honestly, going into it, I don’t know if I was just naïve, or immature or what, but going in, I would have answered the question differently than I do today. I think coming from MD Anderson — which is such an outstanding place with such a sense of purpose and a sense of mission — and shifting to pediatrics, I think there is a little bit of a difference in that you see the pediatric patients each and every day. Whereas at Anderson, you were definitely grounded in a sense of purpose each and every day, but you didn’t necessarily see a family sitting in a cafeteria as you’re walking by, either praying or just struggling with a decision. That has really grounded me from that perspective.
I think from a transition perspective, it was a lot harder. I mean, having invested 13 years of my career at Anderson and working with such outstanding people, it was a hard decision to leave and go to an environment where you’re basically starting over. You’re hitting reset on all the go-to people in an organization you knew that could get things done, and you’re having to build and develop relationships. That takes time. That hasn’t been a challenge; it’s just been something that I’ve had to focus on being the new kid, even though I’ve been here for a year and a half.
Gamble: Sure. Now I know that you’re involved in CHIME and other organizations. Has that been helpful as far as adjusting to the new role?
Perry: It absolutely has. I’ve reached out to many CHIME friends and colleagues over the last year and a half — and even before that. It’s such a great organization that’s well-run and it gives somebody the opportunity to just reach out and say, ‘I have a question,’ or ‘I want to do a survey and get a quick response on a particular item.’ That’s been such a wonderful blessing for somebody in my role that transitioned into a new organization.
Gamble: Okays, so to close out, I’m going to ask a very big question. I want to get your thoughts on what you think is the most challenging part of being a CIO today. And on the flip side, what’s the most rewarding?
Perry: I’d say the most challenging thing is having time to focus on one thing, or a small list of things. I think what typically happens — and I’ll categorize the various CIOs I know — is you come in, you put your lunch pail down, and you’re off to meeting after meeting, discussion after discussion, and usually those are in 15, 30, or 60-minute increments. It’s having the time to step back and say, ‘okay, here’s a conversation we had around St. Jude Global. How do we need to architect and build an IT strategy around that? Being able to do that has been challenging.
On the flip side, when you talk about what’s most rewarding, I find great joy in seeing others bloom and grow in their role. Being able to work with such a great group of people and seeing the reward of not just bringing some technology or some new product, but seeing people grow in their role as they do that, is extremely rewarding. And I think bodes really well for our future, because there’s some great leaders out there, and it’s really exciting to see them grow.
Gamble: Great. Well, that covers what I wanted to talk about. Really a lot of very interesting and important work being done there. Thank you so much for taking some time to talk about it, we appreciate it.
Perry: No problem, Kate. I appreciate the time.
Gamble: Sure. Thanks again and I hope to see you at HIMSS.
Perry: Sounds good.
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