“The most exciting part of healthcare right now is the disruptors who are entering the market.” It’s not exactly a shocking sentiment; for quite some time, analysts have predicted that companies like Google and Apple could shake things up considerably. In this case, however, the statement was made by Debbie Cancilla, a CIO with 25 years of healthcare experience. She believes that by underestimating these disruptors, the industry could miss out on tremendous partnership opportunities, particularly when it comes to improving the consumer experience. On the other hand, those who are willing to keep an open mind can help move their organizations in the right direction.
Recently, healthsystemCIO spoke with Cancilla, who was named CIO at NJ-based Atlantic Health in 2017, about the Epic task her team faces, why she was hesitant to take on another major EHR rollout – but eventually accepted the challenge, and why culture really is king. Cancilla also talks about what she considers to be the most valuable leadership qualities, and what excites her most about the future of healthcare.
- Working w/ NJ’s Healthcare Transformation Consortium to bring “pockets of information” together
- Eye on the “disruptors” — “They can look at things in a different way.”
- Her approach as new CIO
- Passion for “recreating IT department teams”
- Most valuable leadership qualities
- Succession planning: “I can’t imagine leaving an organization in a state of chaos.”
- Technology’s role in enabling efficiencies – “We can make this so much easier on people.”
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That’s what everyone is trying to figure out: how do we get it all? How do we normalize that information? How do we create this nice record of care for the patients so we can see where there are gaps, and figure out what needs to be done going forward?
They aren’t burdened with the fact that healthcare is steeped in tradition. They can look at things in a different way, and it’s going to challenge us on a day-to-day basis to retain our book of business; to make sure we continue to be the best that we can be.
One of the attributes I look for is the ability to manage risk and deal with fear. If you’re willing to step into the unknown and figure out how to work through it, to me that’s a winning quality.
I’m excited about people understanding how technology can help enable and create efficiencies within healthcare systems. I’m excited about the fact that, when used right, technology can really help support the patient experience. We can make this so much easier on people. There are so many opportunities for improvement.
Gamble: The Healthcare Transformation Consortium is really interesting, especially when you look at some of the organizations involved, like CentraState and Hunterdon Healthcare, which are independent. It’s great to see some of these different-sized organizations working together to move toward the ultimate goal of reducing costs.
Cancilla: When you think about healthcare from a big picture perspective, it’s been little silos of information. You might go to a retail pharmacy and get a script filled, or maybe you go to CVS Minute Clinic, or your insurance has a nurse advice line you call because you’re not sure what level of care you need, or what you should be doing. So you have that transaction. Then you might see a primary care doctor, or have an inpatient or an emergency department visit. There’s all these little venues and pockets of healthcare information that need to come together into one picture for us to help manage the patient’s care and ultimately improve that care.
The next wave in healthcare is making sure we have the ability — and everybody’s getting into this game right now — to get everything into one collective picture, which means the insurance companies now have to start sharing more information with payers. We have to figure out ways of having more visibility into any of the retail transactions, like an urgent care visit. How do we get all the information about that patient into one place so we can have a comprehensive record of care? That’s what everyone is trying to figure out: how do we get it all? How do we normalize that information? How do we really create this nice record of care for the patients so we can see where there are gaps, and figure out what needs to be done going forward?
Gamble: Getting together with other organizations in the state makes a lot of sense. And it hasn’t always been the case in healthcare, especially when you are have competing organizations.
Cancilla: Right. And probably the most exciting part of healthcare right now honestly are the new disruptors or entrants into the market — Google, Amazons, Apple, CVS-Aetna, etc. These companies haven’t done this type of work or been in this industry, and therefore, they aren’t burdened with the fact that healthcare is steeped in tradition. They can look at things in a different way, and it’s going to challenge us on a day-to-day basis to retain our book of business; to make sure we continue to be the best that we can be. These disruptors are a really important part of the evolution of healthcare as we go forward. I believe it’s a good thing.
Gamble: Given your interest in innovation, I would think you’re more likely to have an eye on these types of things and take an interest in different approaches to some of the challenges the industry has dealt with for years.
Cancilla: Absolutely. The other part is that some of the disruptors who have their eye on this space are too big to compete with, in any regard. They deal with completely different revenue resources than we do. So the question becomes, how do you find an opportunity to partner with them? Does it make sense to offer medical durable goods or consumables at the conclusion of somebody’s healthcare visit, and maybe do that through Amazon? Does it make sense to continue to leverage Apple’s consumer digital wearable equipment? How do you partner with some of these behemoths instead of trying to compete with them?
Gamble: Right. Now, you’ve been with Atlantic for two years now. When you started, what was your approach to being the new CIO? What did you do to get to know the organization and the people?
Cancilla: This is actually my third rodeo — I’ve been in similar situations before. It’s funny, when people ask, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I never thought I’d be doing the work I’m doing today. But I’ve found a niche in recreating IT department teams and application portfolios, and getting things fixed within an IT department. When I got here, I was handed a study that had been done on all the things that needed to be fixed. When that happens, you put yourself to task; you figure out what your plan is going to be, and you start to form the team that will get it done. I did this at Grady Health and Pinnacle, and then here at Atlantic Health as well.
Gamble: As you said, this isn’t your first time. But there’s always going to be a period of change and adjustment being with a new organization. Is it important to be able to establish a rhythm so you have start focusing on what needs to be accomplished?
Cancilla: To be very honest, the first part of that rhythm is this panic and fear where you look at things and say, ‘Oh my God, what did I just do? I could’ve stayed where I was. Things were running smoothly. I had a stride going. I could’ve retired there.’ But you continue to push yourself with regard to growth, and you get anxious for your next challenge. Then you’re heading to that next challenge and there’s a moment of panic when you say, ‘Am I an idiot? What did I just do?’ But you have a good talk with yourself and you say, ‘This is going to be great. This is what you need to do.’ You put yourself at ease, then you put yourself to task, and it just seems to work.
Gamble: Great advice. When you think about the people who are really valuable to you and the ones that have a lot of potential, what are those qualities that really stand out?
Cancilla: I’d have to say that being in IT, you don’t have a siloed view, you have an overarching view of the whole organization, which means you deal with a multitude of disciplines that you may not be proficient in. For example, I can’t speak the cancer language. I can’t necessarily speak all the clinical cardiology terms, and it’s the same with my team.
And so what I love to see, and one of the attributes I look for, is the ability to manage risk and deal with fear. If you’re willing to step into the unknown and figure out how to work through it, to me that’s a winning quality. Anybody who can deal with risk or fear and people who are resourceful — that’s what I look for. I love to find people with those qualities and develop them. It is absolutely my passion. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve left a cadre of folks who were able to move to the next level. As a matter of fact, every time I leave a position my second in charge ends up taking my role. That’s hugely rewarding because it means I’ve done my job. I haven’t left the organization in a bad place. I haven’t left my team in a bad place. To me it’s always been incredibly important to continue to develop and work with the team so they feel like they’re growing.
Gamble: You know you’ve done your job well if you’re able to step away from it, whether it’s temporarily or permanent, and things are still running the way they’re supposed to.
Cancilla: Absolutely. I can’t imagine leaving an organization in the state of chaos or a state of unrest. I think it’s important to have that commitment to always leave the place better than when you entered its doors.
Gamble: The last thing I want to ask, and I know this is a vague question, but when you look at where the industry is headed, what excites you most? What gives you hope and lets you know things are going in the right direction?
Cancilla: I’m hugely excited about people understanding how technology can help enable and create efficiencies within healthcare systems. I’m excited about the fact that, when used right, technology can really help support the patient experience. We can make this so much easier on people. There are so many opportunities for improvement.
I’m also hugely excited about the fact that medicine is no longer the black curtain. People are engaging more; they understand what lab values they’re looking at, and they understand why they need certain health maintenance at certain intervals. They’re engaged in their care at a level that they haven’t been before, and that’s only going to get better. This whole veil where people used to be afraid and not understand their care — it’s gone. They have access to so many new things now on the internet, so they can research on their own where before they had to go to a medical library. It’s a whole transformation and it’s all really driven by technology, making it easier for organizations to be more efficient and sustainable and better experience for the patient. That keeps me very excited.
Gamble: On the flip side, is there anything in particular that alarms you or needs to be addressed before we can move forward?
Cancilla: I’m afraid we underestimate some of the disruptors that are entering the market and how to best manage that entrance. I think perhaps we’re not being serious enough about the fact that these are very strong, powerful, well-groomed organizations, and we assume that because they’ve been our patients, they’ll always be our patients. And it’s not one particular organization; it’s an industry dynamic. And so I think it’s important to keep our eye open and learn how to either compete, or partner, as appropriate, with these disruptors. It can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing.
Gamble: It’s daunting, for sure. Well, I think that about wraps up what I wanted to talk about. Thank you so much, I appreciate your time.
Cancilla: Absolutely. Thank you!
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