There’s a famous quote from Albert Einstein that David Reis often refers to: “We must be willing to give up what we are in order to become what we will be.” Nowhere is that sentiment more applicable than in healthcare, where leaders need to accept the fact that the same strategies have made organizations successful in the past, won’t necessarily yield the same results going forward. Recently, healthsystemCIO.com spoke with Reis about his plans as CIO at Hackensack Meridian Health, now the largest health system in New Jersey, and the approach he used when joining an organization that has seen a great deal of change.
Reis also discusses his ultimate goal of providing IT solutions “that are interoperable, scalable, sustainable, and cost-effective,” why CIOs need to get away from the “vendor mindset” and into a “partner mindset,” his advice for aspiring health IT leaders, and the attributes he values most in team members.
- About Hackensack Meridian
- Plugging IT into existing operating committees — “It’s been very well received.”
- Long-term plan to roll out Epic EHR & PeopleSoft across the network
- Tomorrow’s clinical care provider
- Optimization vs customization
- His goal with IT solutions: scalable, sustainable & cost-effective
- Partners, not vendors
For me as a CIO, it’s more about setting technology direction in terms of outcomes, rather than focusing on specific technology. It’s about people management, strategic vision, and budget performance.
Unfortunately, that’s often the go-to strategy — that if we’re going to involve IT, we need a separate committee. We’re doing the opposite by plugging IT into an existing operational committee.
That’s really a big focus for us — making technology easier to use, more accessible, and more secure, while also driving down the unit cost so we can reinvest it back into the next-generation areas, and back into our team members as we continue to educate them on what health IT is going to look like in the future.
There’s a fine line between optimizing and customizing. Experience has shown that in the long run, optimizing is a more effective and sustainable strategy than customizing.
Gamble: Hi David, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Let’s start with an overview of Hackensack Meridian Health.
Reis: Sure. We are now the largest health system in New Jersey. We have 16 hospitals, more than 450 patient care centers and physician offices, and 33,000 team members. We really provide the full care continuum for patients and their family members through our ambulatory locations, inpatient care, highly-specialized care, home care, skilled nursing facilities, and long-term care. In addition to that, we’re standing up a medical school—the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University— and our first class starts this July! As you can see, we have a large footprint, with a lot going on, which is what really attracted me to the organization.
Gamble: For a little bit of background, when was the merger of Hackensack University Health Network and Meridian Health finalized?
Reis: In July of 2016.
Gamble: And you started there about a year and a half later. What was your approach in entering an organization that had been through so much change?
Reis: Having grown up in the Philadelphia area, and spending time in the industry both there and in Boston, I was familiar with two organizations. I knew that before they came together, each had a proud tradition of driving innovation and setting the standard for health IT. For me, the challenge of taking two very successful IT organizations and forming something even better was a big draw.
And it’s more about management, leadership, and process than it is about straight technology. I spend a lot of my time on the people side, the process side, and the visioning side, and less on the individual technologies.
Gamble: That’s reflective of what we’re seeing across the country in terms of the CIO role.
Reis: If you look at it in terms of scale, our IT department is the same size as a medium-sized American business. We have staff in 12 locations, about 100 miles apart from stem to stern, and we provide services for 33,000 team members as well as millions of patients. For me as a CIO, it’s more about setting technology direction in terms of outcomes, rather than focusing on specific technology. It’s about people management, strategic vision, and budget performance.
Gamble: I’m sure that can be challenging with the department being so spread out. How are you able to get all of these teams to operate as one?
Reis: There are a few different schools of thought. I’ve settled on what I call Version 1.0, which is to tap into the existing governance structures and have IT representation on those executive-level committees, rather than standing up yet another committee. Unfortunately, that’s often the go-to strategy — that if we’re going to involve IT, we need a separate committee. We’re doing the opposite by plugging IT into existing operational committees, and it’s been very well received. There will likely be a Version 2.0 and we will have to see in what direction that evolves.
Gamble: It makes sense. When you have that many separate committees, it can end up being counter-productive.
Reis: Exactly. With an organization this size and scale, moving at this pace, there’s so much going on. What’s become clear is that IT is what enables all of that, and so it makes sense to plug into everything that’s happening and have IT be the glue, rather than another pillar.
Gamble: Right. When you look at the major priorities your team is working on, I imagine the Epic rollout is high on the list.
Reis: It is. We’re planning to roll out the Epic EHR and PeopleSoft Enterprise Resource Planning across the network.
Gamble: Some of the hospitals are already on Epic, correct?
Reis: Yes. Epic has been in the network for many years, and we’re in the process of rolling it out across the system. The plan is to take the good work we’ve done and capitalize on it. We’re still finalizing the timelines at this point.
Gamble: Sure. What are some of the other core objectives at this point?
Reis: One thing we’re really focused on is the clinical care provider of tomorrow. How can we provide technology to them that reduces the unit cost, while at the same time making it easier technology easier to use and more accessible to our team members? That’s really a big focus for us — making technology easier to use, more accessible, and more secure, while also driving down the unit cost so we can reinvest it back into the next-generation areas, and back into our team members as we continue to educate them on what health IT is going to look like in the future.
I think we’re at a pretty strong inflection point around what technology in healthcare used to be and what it will be going forward. And I want to make sure we’re the vanguard of that change and we’re leading it throughout the industry.
Gamble: When you talk about making technology easier for clinicians to use, is it challenging to strike a balance between giving them what they need without over-customizing?
Reis: Yes, definitely. There’s a fine line between optimizing and customizing. Experience has shown that in the long run, optimizing is a more effective and sustainable strategy than customizing. And so I would say that the vision for this phase of the maturity evolution is to provide IT solutions that are scalable, sustainable, and cost-effective. That’s what we’re focused on.
Gamble: I’m sure it’s not an easy vision to achieve. What do you believe are the keys to making that a reality?
Reis: There are a few ways to do that. One is by increasingly looking at what we already have within the health network. There’s so much capacity. For any problem we’re trying to solve or any innovation we’re trying to bring to bear, chances are we already have technologies in place that can be leveraged. That’s one key piece.
Another is getting away from the vendor mindset and into a partner mindset. And that means being able to take our spend and maximize with like-minded technology partners who are interested in the same things we are, rather than just spreading it across a variety of vendors and trying to choose the best in breed, both at the technology level and the application level. And so creating rock-solid partnerships and nurturing them is a critical piece in our strategy for making IT scalable and sustainable.
Gamble: Part of that includes setting expectations and making sure everybody is on the same page, I would think.
Reis: Right, and making sure everyone knows the ‘why.’ That’s another key component. As we enter this new paradigm where health IT services are delivered in new ways, the ‘why’ is incredibly important as we help manage that change and focus on end user satisfaction — whether it’s patients or our team members — and ensure we can meet their needs, both now and in the future. And so the ‘why’ behind the things we’re doing is really important at this stage.