We often hear people say, ‘timing is everything.’ For Dana Sellers, that seemed to be the case, as she co-founded two companies — Trinity Computing and Encore Resources — at the time when they were most needed in the industry. But while timing is certainly important, it’s not everything. During her career, which spanned more than three decades, Sellers demonstrated an uncanny knack for leveraging her knowledge and industry relationships to be able to anticipate what’s coming down the pike.
Recently, healthsystemCIO.com spoke with Sellers about the risky move of starting a company during a financial downturn, her strategy when it comes to identifying top talent, why strong governance is essential, and what she considers to be the key challenges – and opportunities – for CIOs.
- Prioritization challenges – “The strategic succumbs to the urgent.”
- Using data to manage conditions, not “fix” them
- Working with the Greater Houston HIE board
- Lack of data sharing among independent docs
- “HIT needs to be healthcare information technology, not hospital IT.”
- Her thoughts on MU – “It got us a toehold.”
- CIO’s evolving role – “The power has shifted.”
- Pros of semi-retirement
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You just have to stay committed and do those strategic sessions so you can get out of the day to day and think about where you’re going. You have to be committed to that, even when the urgent is sitting on your other shoulder talking to you.
It’s almost like HIT today stands for hospital information technology, and not healthcare information technology. We need to make it truly healthcare information technology if we’re going to be able to accomplish all these great things.
They still have issues with being able to drive value from their data, in part because hospitals mostly didn’t have the luxury of implementing a system across the entire organization and calling it a day, saying ‘Great, now let’s use this data.”
Putting an EHR in has never been the end goal, nor is it the step that drives the most value. The value comes when you start to gain true insights from that data; when you can make sure the data is in the right place at the right time.
Gamble: Do you find that leaders often get stuck in the day to day and don’t focus enough energy on the future?
Dana: Sure. I always say that the strategic succumbs to the urgent. We’d always have great ideas about having a big strategic planning session, and then a crisis would come up. I think you just have to stay committed and do those strategic sessions so you can get out of the day to day and think about where you’re going. You have to be committed to that, even when the urgent is sitting on your other shoulder talking to you.
Gamble: I’m sure it’s easier said than done when there are so many pressing matters. Now, when you think about where the industry is headed, with this big shift that needs to happen from fee for service to fee for value, what excites you most?
Sellers: I think we’ve put a great foundation in place in terms of data that can be used to gain amazing insights that will dramatically change the cost of care, the quality of care, and efficiency. But here’s one of the problems. We all talk about aging baby boomers — the fact that care is moving out of the hospital and into other settings, and the importance of using data to be able to manage chronic conditions and predict and prevent an illness rather than just fixing. All of this sounds great. But I sit on the board of the Greater Houston HIE, which is one of the most successful HIEs in the country. Every major hospital system in Houston participates, and the data is actually incorporated right into the physicians’ workflow at those hospitals. And this data can be accessed across the community for research purposes. It’s a huge accomplishment, and we’re on the brink of doing some really exciting things there.
Here’s the problem. Most independent physicians aren’t able to share in that data. So is care really being pushed out of hospital setting? It’s almost like HIT today stands for hospital information technology, and not healthcare information technology. We need to make it truly healthcare information technology if we’re going to be able to accomplish all these great things that we want to accomplish with the data and deal with some of the challenges that face us today.
Gamble: Looking back at the HITECH Act, it’s certainly something that has had its critics and flaws, but what are your thoughts on what did it for the industry?
Sellers: I think it was a huge first step. It took a core set of data and demanded standards around that core set of data. It demanded interoperability. It got us a toehold. When I talk to CIOs, though, they still have issues with being able to drive value from their data, in part because hospitals mostly didn’t have the luxury of implementing a system across the entire organization and calling it a day, saying ‘Great, now let’s use this data.”
Most healthcare organizations have acquired hospitals that had a different system — or they might even have the same vendor system, but they implemented it differently. Even within a hospital that has one system, we found that different departments sometimes use different definitions for the same field. And so, getting true standardization of data across a healthcare organization is already challenging, but then being able to share that across multiple organizations and the physician and ambulatory environments — there’s still a big challenge there. But Meaningful Use was a great first step. I’m a proponent, not a critic.
Gamble: It’s hard to imagine where the industry would be if it hadn’t be passed. So, the last think I wanted to talk about is the CIO role, which has evolved so much. What do you think are the most important qualities CIOs will need to have going forward?
Sellers: It’s interesting. As these big, $100 or $200 million-dollar (or maybe more depending on how big the organization) EHR implementations have finished, an organization naturally starts to say, “Okay, IT, you’ve had your spend. Now we need to invest in elevators, and MRIs, and a new outpatient building.’ They’re saying, ‘Look, we had everything in the organization put on hold for you to do your thing. You were the king or queen for several years, but now we’ve got to do these other things.’ And so the power has started to shift to some of the other leaders in the organization.
I had a CIO come to me and say, “I finished my Epic implementation. It went really well. But now that I’ve done this project, I think I need to look for another job because I’m done here.’ And I asked, ‘Why in the world would you want to leave when you’ve just now got everything in place to start to do the really valuable stuff?’ Putting an EHR in has never been the end goal, nor is it the step that drives the most value. The value comes when you start to gain true insights from that data; when you can make sure the data is in the right place at the right time to change a treatment or to prevent an illness.
I think we’re entering the most exciting time healthcare IT has seen in the last several decades. We’re at a point now where we can actually do things that show incredible value to healthcare as a whole. The challenge for CIOs is to not get into a rut of ‘how can I produce all the reports everybody asks for.’ Instead, they need to be thinking, ‘how do I deliver true value and insights that will change my organization and my patients’ lives?’ If they can keep that in mind, I think they’ll be incredibly successful.
Gamble: It’s interesting. The way the role has evolved may not be what people originally signed up for, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Sellers: I think it’s a very exciting thing. But we’re in a time where true CIOs are being challenged to cut costs, and that’s hard. That’s harder than when somebody says, ‘here’s a $100 million. Go build a team and do all these fun things.’ Now they’re being told, ‘you have to take 7 percent out of your budget.’ That’s hard, and it’s not nearly as exciting. But if you can start to drive true value through the insights that you can deliver, you can do some exciting things, both within IT and across the organization.
Gamble: I think that’s a good way to wrap this up. I want to thank you so much for your time. It’s incredibly valuable for people in healthcare leadership roles to hear your insights.
Sellers: Thank you, Kate. I enjoyed talking with you.
Gamble: Me too. Hopefully I’ll see you at CHIME, if you’re planning to be there.
Sellers: I’ll be there. I’m on the Most Wired Committee, so I’ll be eager to see the winners of that, and to catch up with everybody. I’m keeping my toe in the water just enough while also doing things I didn’t have time for before, like enjoying my grandkids and traveling.
For example, I’m on the UT Engineering Advisory Board, and one of the professors there asked me to speak with the CIO of a little startup spinoff company that’s doing robots for healthcare. This robot rolls down the hall and has an articulated arm. It can reach up to shelves; it can grab things; and it can learn where things are. It can deliver supplies to a patient’s room, saving nurses time fetching and hunting. It feels like it’s the same point PCs where were when I got into the business. It’s exciting. We’re going to see incredible things over the next 10 to 20 years.
Gamble: It sounds like you found a good balance. Thanks again for your time.
Sellers: Thanks, Kate.
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