Amazing things can happen when leaders take the time not just to meet with those on the front lines, but to listen to their concerns and consider their ideas. In fact, it was during one of the regular town hall sessions held by Dr. James Downing, CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, that an idea surfaced — one with the potential to transform the experience for families. The concept was a mobile app that could help navigate the journey by coordinating travel and housing, and providing information about the area. Most importantly, it could reduce stress and anxiety during an extremely difficult time, and advise families on what to expect.
Not only did the app come to fruition; it garnered a Webby Award, and solidified St. Jude’s reputation as a patient-focused organization. But, like any initiative, it required a great deal of preparation and hard work, and a willingness to switch gears in order to drive it forward. Recently, healthsystemCIO spoke with Keith Perry, CIO at St. Jude’s, about what it took to make the idea a reality, the challenges his team faced, and how he hopes to continue to build out a strong digital health strategy.
Perry also talked about the organization’s transition to the cloud, the resource center his team was able to quickly put together, and how he believes Covid-19 will impact his philosophy as CIO.[Click here to read Part 1]
- Recruiting users to provide feedback: Because the primary goal with St. Jude’s patient care app was improve the experience for patients and families, the organization created an advisory committee to “guide us and help with brainstorming,” and will continue to solicit feedback going forward.
- Using a mobile app “as a vehicle”: With St. Jude’s new patient app, care providers are able to distribute memos and information much faster than before, and could easily track which users had received the information.
- Making mobile technology a permanent priority: As St. Jude reassesses some of the projects that were put on hold during Covid, one thing is for certain — “I can’t ever see us saying we’re done delivering mobile technology to our patients.”
- Rethinking processes: The pandemic has caused St. Jude not just to prioritize differently, but to question the thinking that all projects that were started must eventually be completed. “It has allowed us to step back and say, ‘just because we decided something was a good idea before, it doesn’t mean it’s still a good idea now.”
Q&A with Keith Perry, CIO, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Gamble: When the patient care app was ready, did you pilot it to a certain group? How did that work?
Perry: Our initial goal was to think of it from the perspective of a new family coming to St. Jude. That was the driving force; we wanted to improve the experience for them. And so, from the start, we partnered with our patient experience office in IT. When we were ready to pilot it, they found a few new families who were willing to try it. Throughout the journey, we had a family advisory committee guiding us and helping us with brainstorming and even with the original design. They were extremely useful in validating that it is something that’s really needed.
After that, we started to deploy the app. From there, the marketing and communication campaign took over. It was a lot of word-of-mouth, but it was also marketing to families on campus and as well as new ones coming in, and setting up support in front of our cafeteria to make sure people knew about the app. We were doing what we could to build excitement, which was huge.
Gamble: What type of feedback did you receive at first?
Perry: From an IT standpoint, we were just looking for some type of validation that it worked. At first the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, because it wasn’t just focused on one thing. Some of them wanted to see their clinical appointments, which we did. Some would hear about an event — for example, we have Doggy Daze on Thursdays — and want to add it to their calendar, which was extremely useful. Another comment was, ‘I met a nurse in the hallway who is part of my care team, but it’s not in the EHR. I want to add her as somebody to follow.’ That was extremely useful. And there have been ideas for future enhancements as well, which have been great.
Gamble: As you’ve gone through the pandemic, how have you dealt with things like visitor restrictions and staying in communication with families?
Perry: When the pandemic hit, we had just released an update to the app that allowed us to create a notification center, and so Dr. Downing and our clinical operations teams were able to use that to communicate with families. And not just families that are here on campus, but those at home — they were able to use the mobile app as a vehicle. And they were able to distribute memos and information in a much faster way than they had previously; rather than emailing a memo, they can post information and we’re able to track how many eyes saw it within the first two hours. That’s been an extremely useful communication tool for us.
Gamble: Are you looking at some of those enhancements now, or has that been put on hold?
Perry: Covid has certainly caused us to hit pause on some of that, because we had to quickly pivot. We released a mobile app for our employees. We do nasal swab testing for our patients, employees, and anybody coming to campus. We needed to build that program to control flow, and so we developed an app in which people answered questions to determine whether or not they needed to get tested to gain access to campus. It comes up red, yellow, or green.
Now we’re looking at how we can think about that in the context of our patient mobile app. As we transition back to the work of St. Jude and the projects we were working on in February and March that we can start back up again, because there are a lot of future enhancements we want to make. There are so many opportunities and needs right now — I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. I can’t ever see us saying we’re done with delivering mobile technology to our patients and families.
Gamble: Let’s talk about the Global COVID-19 Observatory and Resource Center for Childhood Cancer. How did that come about?
Perry: Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD, our executive VP of St. Jude Global, and his team came up with the idea because of the partnerships they have across the globe. When it came back to the leadership team, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if St. Jude stood up and did this?’ And so, again, we pivoted. We had probably three different IT teams working on it, not only from the website perspective, but the backend data base. Our information security team was doing risk assessments and scans to make sure it was secure, and to deal with the identity tracking issue. That launched about a week after that initial discussion — that’s something we’re really proud of.
Gamble: It must have been pretty amazing to stand up something like that in such a short period of time.
Perry: It is. When I speak with other CIOs, we all agree that this has been one of the most stressful times we can remember, but it’s also been a lot of fun to drive so much change in such a short period of time. We all say, ‘let’s not go back to the days of it taking four months to do something. Let’s continue with the same environment as we come out of COVID to drive digital transformation.’
Gamble: What are some of the other projects you’ll focus on going forward?
Perry: We had made the decision prior to Covid to switch to workday. We delayed that for six months, but we need to get that effort going because it offers a huge benefit for the institution. We’re in the middle of evaluating our EHR strategy. I expect an announcement to come in the next two to three months on what that’s going to look like. So I would say there are certainly some huge boulders in front of us.
One of the conversations we’re having now at an institution level is around the processes we can rethink and reevaluate as a result of this — how do we continue to push a digital workforce that has more of a work-life balance option, as opposed to just bringing people back and assuming that they’re going to transition to where we were in January, which is not something that we want to do. Those are some of the big things.
Gamble: When you do have initiatives or decisions that are put on hold, I would imagine in some cases it can change your thinking and maybe cause you to consider things you hadn’t prioritized before. Has that been the case?
Perry: Absolutely. In fact, I was just telling IT leadership that just because we put something on hold, it doesn’t mean we need to start it again. It comes down to this: we give ourselves too much to do and not enough time to get it done, which leads to these elongated dates we were talking about earlier. And so I think this has been a huge blessing for IT, because it has allowed us to step back and say, just because we decided something was a good idea before, it doesn’t mean it’s still a good idea. That’s how this institution tends to think, which is really refreshing.