When you go from a large, integrated health system in the northeast to a Florida-based organization focused on hospice, palliative care, and home health, there are going to be some glaring differences. But for Sheryl Sypek, who took on the CIO role at Chapters Health System three years ago, the biggest contrast she saw was in the EHR market, which is “far less mature” than in the acute care hospital world.
As one can imagine, it made for a much different vendor selection process. But it also resulted in both an education, and a bonding experience, for her team. Recently, we spoke with Sypek about how she learned to navigate the brave new world of palliative and hospice care, why she made the move, and how she and her team plan to continue to forge a new path in this growing sector. Sypek also talks about how her time in consulting made her “a better CIO,” why Chapters is uniquely positioned to thrive in a value-based care world, and why giving back is so important.
- Collaborating with Wellsky “to enhance the product”
- Keys to successful vendor partnerships
- “Their product roadmap & strategy aligned with our approach”
- A “new level” of med admin integration
- Ultimate goal to “provide caregivers with more quality time with patients.”
- Leveraging predictive analytics to intervene earlier in patient care
- Moving to the non-acute care space – “It’s a very different environment.”
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We’re not co-developing it, because his team is doing the heavy lifting. But we’re collaborating very closely with them on the direction of some of the products, and I think it’s been a really good vendor partnership.
With things like CPOE and medication reconciliation that have been around in the acute care world for quite some time, we don’t have the capability to do that at the same level. But we have all the same needs — and then some.
I want to make the technology a very natural extension of the caregiver, much like their stethoscope. They wouldn’t dream of walking into a patient’s home without it around their neck and being ready to use it to provide care; I want the technology they’re using to feel much the same.
Some of what we’re doing really has nothing to do with direct patient care, but it enables us to evaluate much earlier in the patient’s experience when it’s appropriate to make changes in the type of care that they’re receiving.
I didn’t know at the time how challenged the organization — or the industry — would be in terms of the solutions that were available. That came after I started. But it has made it a very interesting and rewarding part of my career.
Gamble: As far as the timeline for rolling out the EHR, what are you looking at?
Sypek: We’re pretty excited about this relationship with WellSky. We’re doing some co-development with them, asking them to enhance specific areas of the product to work better for an organization like ours. We’re focusing on hospice first, because that’s currently the largest portion of our care provided.
As I mentioned earlier, we have three affiliates. We’re going to be piloting the first affiliate later this year, probably in the Q4 time frame. At the same time, we’ll have implemented a new system for our pharmacy — that will be the first rollout of any of the WellSky system components. It will be followed closely by our other two hospice affiliates, and then likely palliative care after that, since we’re doing a lot of partnering with them to enhance the product. Lastly we’ll do home health.
Gamble: You talked about doing some co-development. I would think that’s a great opportunity for a health system like yours not to have to implement a product that’s already fully baked.
Sypek: Their philosophy and strategy around developing the product was very much aligned with our strategy. As a side note, I think their chief technology officer might argue with me that we’re not co-developing it, because his team is doing the heavy lifting. But we’re collaborating very closely with them on the direction of some of the products, and I think it’s been a really good vendor partnership.
One thing that was very attractive about their solution is the fact that their product roadmap and strategy really aligned with our approach. You mentioned about referrals earlier. Wellsky’s system has the entire referral management process above the service line, and so we can manage and schedule across all of the service lines. Very often, when a patient or a referral partner calls us, they don’t always know where exactly the patient sits in that care continuum. We can start that referral at the highest level in our organization and then drop them into the appropriate service line, and that matches up with the solution that they’re providing us.
Gamble: I can imagine that was a big motivator in starting the process, because you do have patients who are dealing with multiple care providers.
Sypek: Right. We get referrals from all different avenues, and as a result, we’re interacting with a lot of different types of providers.
Gamble: In terms of how the implementation is mapped out, is the hope that you’ll be able to apply some of the lessons learned from previous rollouts to subsequent rollouts?
Sypek: Yeah, absolutely. The three different hospice affiliates we have are different sizes, so we’re attempting this first rollout — and I’m a big planner — not just to be successful, but also to help us avoid any issues we can run into at some of the larger affiliates. Our largest affiliate is probably close to three times as big as the affiliate where we’re doing the initial pilot.
Gamble: I’m sure there will be a lot of lessons learned.
Sypek: I’m sure there will be. We’re also going to be doing a much different level of medication administration integration than we’re able to currently do with our existing vendors. So, as you can imagine, with things like CPOE and medication reconciliation that have been around in the acute care world for quite some time, we don’t have the capability to do that at the same level. But we have all the same needs — and then some. So we’re focusing on that level of integration and ensuring that works seamlessly for our patients.
Gamble: Right. What about the patient experience piece — what’s your strategy for educating patients and caregivers, especially in an environment where there is so much to absorb?
Sypek: It is a lot to absorb, for our patients in particular. They’re going through a lot of changes in their life, and this is no different than any other care setting in the sense that we want to provide more quality time for caregivers to give to their patients. From my perspective, I want to make the technology a very natural extension of the caregiver, much like their stethoscope. They wouldn’t dream of walking into a patient’s home without it around their neck and being ready to use it to provide care; I want the technology they’re using to feel much the same. I want to minimize their time spent using technology and enhance the quality of the care that they can give, based on technology. I don’t think our goals are much different than any care setting; we want the patient experience to really benefit from the technology that we deploy.
Gamble: Is that something you feel can really evolve in the coming years?
Sypek: Yes, we’re evaluating all the time. We’re working on some different telehealth pilots that we’re planning to for later this year. That, at least initially, would fall more in the home health space, but obviously could evolve into other areas as well. So it’s a constant evolution.
Some of what we’re doing really has nothing to do with direct patient care, but it enables us to evaluate much earlier in the patient’s experience when it’s appropriate to make changes in the type of care that they’re receiving, and being able to help providers to understand that so they can get the greatest benefit from whatever particular service we provide. That falls into the area of predictive analytics, which might not seem like it has a direct impact on the patient experience, but it certainly does if they get the right services at the right time — or earlier in the course of the illness.
Gamble: That makes sense. Now, you’ve been at Chapters for about three years. Was the EHR implementation one of the drivers for you coming to this particular role? What was it that appealed most to you about this organization?
Sypek: Honestly, I think what really drew me to the organization was the opportunity to move out of a role focused on supporting care that’s provided in hospital and physician offices, and into the realm of care that happens outside the hospital. My journey is not very different from some of our nurses who start their careers working in a physician office or a hospital, and then come to home care or a hospice later in their career for a variety of reasons. It’s a very different environment, and it’s a very different mission when you’re focusing on hospice; on helping people to live their best life as long as they have that life.
For me, it was personally driven. I’ve had the opportunity to work at some great organizations, but I’ve also had some personal experiences with hospice. When I moved to Florida to be near my parents and start looking at opportunities that were available, this was by far the one that intrigued me the most and attracted me the most, because of the type of care that was provided. I didn’t know at the time how challenged the organization — or the industry — would be in terms of the solutions that were available. That came after I started. But it has made it a very interesting and rewarding part of my career to be able to work with this organization and work toward replacing some of the technology we have.
Gamble: Sometimes I think that if you know all of the challenges you’re going to experience with a role, you might not ever take it.
Sypek: That’s absolutely true. I’d say that’s been the case probably at every step of my career. But that’s what helps us grow as leaders. We’re all defined by the career path and the different opportunities that we’ve had to make a difference.
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