For Chris Belmont, taking on a new role during a crisis is nothing new — nor is starting a new role when large initiatives are looming. And so, when he took the helm at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport during the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, he had an idea of what to expect. But as someone with decades of industry experience, Belmont was careful to avoid the trap of jumping to conclusions. Instead, he put extra effort into “learning and listening, and evaluating where we are.”
Recently, the healthcare IT veteran spoke with healthsystemCIO about what he hopes to achieve at Memorial — based on what the organization truly needs, where he believes key opportunities exist, and how he hopes to change the thinking from a systems approach to a System approach. He also talks about what brought him back to the hospital environment after a 4-year hiatus, how Covid-19 has changed our thinking, and the critical role CIOs play in forcing teams to “back up and think long-term.”
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- A key objective for any CIO? To shift away from being a supplier of technology, and toward becoming a service provider.
- It’s not about adding more tools or solutions to the mix, but rather, focusing on “leveraging what we have,” and making sure they integrate with other technologies.
- One of the key mistakes organizations can make is to utilize a solution – like, for example, API, solely as a time and attendance vendor, “and not as a provider of good data to manage our workforce.”
- During a crisis situation, it’s natural to think in the moment; the CIO’s role is to encourage teams to “step back and think bigger.”
- When leaders are able to get people in a room and start conversations, “good things happen.” But it doesn’t happen without a facilitator.
Q&A with Chris Belmont, Part 2 [Click here for part 1]
Gamble: What were some of your initial priorities when you stepped into the role? What did you want to focus on first?
Belmont: Again, I think it’s moving away from being a supplier of technology and into being an asset to the organization and focusing on how we can provide more services. We had a physician liaison program to help with adoption, but it was more about onboarding and initial training, and not really about optimization and how we can make their practice better. It’s understanding where we can enhance some of the system functionality — for example, building a stronger telemedicine service offering, taking the portfolio we have and really leveraging it.
We have both Health Catalyst and EPSi for our analytical platforms, but we’re using it for individual point solutions; we really aren’t using it as an enterprise solution. It’s looking at growing the use of those and thinking about how to provide data services for the whole organizations, things like that.
It’s also about how we function more as a system with a capital ‘S’ — on Memorial as a health system. We have a hundred different sites with numerous physicians, quite a few nurse practitioners, and a lot of community physicians. It’ll be interesting to see how this dynamic unfolds, but we own three nursing homes as well. That’s a different type of business operation — but at the same time, it’s not. They’re basically tenants, and not patients, but there’s no reason why we can’t treat them with the same level of wellness and care as we would the rest of our community. So that’s an interesting dynamic.
Gamble: It is. You talked about not getting caught up with a particular product or vendor and its capabilities — why is that important? Can that be somewhat limiting?
Belmont: It’s like the old saying, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The reality is that you’re after the solution. I would argue that with the portfolio tools we have — and we don’t have nearly as many tools as we had at Ochsner and MD Anderson, but I think in terms of functionality, we have all the piece parts. We just have to leverage them appropriately and not pick the wrong tool for the job.
It’s also looking at the timing of it, and the opportunity. EPSi is doing a really good job on their budgeting and cost management, why would I necessarily shift that? On the other hand, for telehealth, we have four or five different pieces. We’re using everything from FaceTime on an iPhone to Doxy.me for telehealth, but they aren’t integrated with the EMR. So then you say, how do I look at this from a different perspective? Again, it’s not about adding systems, it’s about leveraging what we have.
We’re a long-time partner with our time and attendance vendor, API. They do a lot more functionality with things like scheduling and labor management, but we haven’t even talked about that, because we see them as a time and attendance vendor and not as a provider of good data to manage our workforce.
Gamble: The idea of functioning as a health system can’t be easy, especially when you have all of these different locations and different ways of doing things. How are you approaching that?
Belmont: My role is to be a facilitator in bringing the parties together. One of the things I’ve realized in my career is that people get so focused on the vertical — on their day job — that sometimes it takes someone like the CIO or an initiative or other compelling moment to say, let’s step back and think bigger. COVID has forced us to think in the moment and week to week, not knowing what’s going to happen next; it’s been going on for so long that it’s almost becoming the operating pattern. But every now and then, we have to take time to back up and think long-term. What is the next acquisition going to look like? How do we make our acquisitions a little more efficient and predictable? How do we look at our physicians? Cerner has some very powerful tools to look at provider efficiency and productivity. How do we use them? How do we find physicians who can benefit and go out there and help them become more successful, whether it’s allowing them to see one more patient or have a better work-life balance because of the burnout?
Sometimes you have to be the facilitator, the group leader. And when you get them in the room and you start the conversation with other leaders, good things happen. But sometimes you need a reason to get together because we’re so busy day-to-day. It’s like another old saying, you have to take time to sharpen the saw.
Gamble: It’s tricky because no one knew this would still be going now, to this extent.
Belmont: Yes. It would be great to know if HIMSS will happen next year, or if Mardi Gras will happen. We just don’t know.
Gamble: You mentioned earlier about being located in the path of Ochsner; I’m sure that’s been interesting for you.
Belmont: It is. But if you look at it from a community perspective, they do their thing really well and we do our thing really well. We have some very loyal patients and providers here. I think if we can take care of the community together and maybe have some healthy coopetition, the patients are the ones who will benefit. We have other partners. We work with University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, and we have other providers and employers with whom we’re partnering.
Gamble: When you think about the time you spent away from the CIO role, whether it was with HCI Group or IRIS, how do you think it affected your philosophy?
Belmont: I think it’s less about the systems and the technology, and more about the business, which is good. Because when look at the finances, with IRIS, for example, we had to move from being a start-up to being a commercially viable organization. How do you make those leaps from being one hospital, or a smaller system, to a much larger system? When you think about those cultural shifts and the talent needed to take you to that level versus the talent that got you here, the experience we had really helped.
With HCI group, it was ability for me to get out and visit a lot of organizations and get caught up on what’s going on in the healthcare industry. While a lot has changed, a lot hasn’t. A lot of regions are still struggling with things like cost and talent and overcoming that EMR hangover; we’re doing the same thing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Gamble: Right. Well, I need to let you go since we’re out of time, but I wanted to thank you for making the time.
Belmont: Sure. I love what you guys do. You guys get some good messages out, so I’m happy to help. That’s one of the things I’m excited about; getting plugged into our fraternity we have here.
Gamble: We’re glad that you’re back. And just as a quick side note, I had twins who were in a NICU for a month, so please tell your wife and daughter thank you. They do such incredible work, and I’m forever grateful.
Belmont: It’s funny, they were both at Ochsner when I was there. Whenever I thought I was having a tough day — which, from an IT perspective, I had no tough days compared to them — I would go watch what they did every day for 12 hours and say, ‘Wow, that’s the important stuff.’ They’re there to help.
Gamble: They are. I’ll never forget the experience.
Belmont: It’s really rewarding. It doesn’t happen as much now, but we would be at a restaurant or a mall and someone would recognize my wife. One time we were walking in our neighborhood and a mother pushing her stroller came up to Kay and said, ‘Are you Kay from Ochsner? You took care of my baby!’ It humbles me because it’s so important.
Gamble: Definitely. Thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it, and I’m sure we’ll be in touch soon.
Belmont: Okay, take care.