A little trepidation isn’t such a bad thing.
In fact, Jim Daly believes it can be quite beneficial, when channeled properly. “Being scared can be good. It lights a fire under you to absorb and ask a lot of questions,” he said during a recent conversation with healthsystemCIO.
Daly speaks from experience, having stepped into the role of CIO at Washington Regional Medical System in July of 2020, smack in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of that, he had only been with the organization — and the provider world, for that matter — for three years, having spent the previous decade on the payer side.
Those three years, however, helped prepare him for the position, largely due to the mentoring he received from Becky Magee, who retired this past summer after 20 years with the organization. “She really invested in me and helped me learn and grow,” noted Daly, who hopes to provide the same career growth opportunities for others.
During the interview, Daly talked about the biggest challenges he has faced since taking on the CIO post, his thoughts on what it takes to manage change successfully, and how his prior career experience has helped shape him as a leader. He also discusses the organization’s core objectives, including migrating to a single platform to create a “true longitudinal record,” and their plans to “refresh” the IT strategy.
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- One of WRMS’ key initiatives is creating a patient engagement platform that “allows us to provide efficiency with appointment reminders, and provide online scheduling and the capability to execute on population health.”
- With an IT strategic plan, the challenge comes in building a roadmap knowing it can change — and ensuring the organization can respond.
- Although the role at WRMS was a great opportunity, accepting it wasn’t an easy decision. “I had to be convinced that I could be successful moving to the provider side.”
- One of the most important lessons learned during the pandemic? The need to “be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” and be willing to adapt.
- Competition for IT talent is only going to get more intense, which means leaders must provide “growth and career opportunities that help staff to be engaged and excited about the work they do.”
Q&A with Jim Daly, Part 2 [Click here to view Part 1]
Gamble: We talk with a lot of CIOs about change management. It’s never easy, but in these circumstances, it seems like there are added pressures, which makes it even more urgent to check in with people and make sure they’re okay.
Daly: Yes. It’s also trying to create an environment where people can be heard. You mentioned change management — that’s something that’s so important, but it gets overlooked in many cases. I’ve been in the workforce at a professional level for over 25 years, and I can’t think of a time in my career where we’ve had this much disruption in our professional lives as well as our personal lives.
Typically, when you’re undergoing a change management effort, there are some elements of outside influences, but it’s usually isolated to the work environment. But this time, it’s impacting not just the work we’re doing, but also the locations in which we’re performing the work, and the style with which we interact. Some people love to be in the office and see each other every day, and now they’re being separated and having to work over a computer screen. It’s challenging, but I think we’ve done a good job of helping our folks work through that. I think listening to them, creating flexibility, and making sure we’re being adaptable to their needs is so important.
Gamble: I don’t want to minimize everything you’re doing with the move to Cerner, but are there other key objectives on your plate for the next year or so?
Daly: Yes. Aside from the Cerner implementation, we’re also rolling out a patient engagement platform that will allow us to provide efficiency through appointment reminders, online scheduling, and the capability to execute population health and wellness campaigns. We’re layering that on as well.
That’s a big effort, and it’s something that’s really needed in our market. Honestly, we’ve lagged in that space, and it’s time for us to catch up. We found a great partner, and we’re off to a good start. We’ll be able to implement that alongside our Cerner initiative, and gain some value before we finish that project in 2022.
We’re also focused on information security maturity, making sure we implement patches in a timely way, and are always on the lookout for threats and vulnerabilities. We’re paying special attention to business impact analysis this year, working closely with our business partners to understand what’s most important to them in terms of business continuity and what happens when we don’t have an application that’s available, and help us establish a framework for managing that.
Adding value every day
The other thing we’re doing — and I’m taking this on with our executive team — is looking at value. One thing I worry about is making sure our team is adding value every day, and that we’re getting the maximum value out of our IT investments. By that, I don’t just mean applications and infrastructure, but also our people. And so, we’re taking this opportunity to refresh our IT plan and technology strategy. We’ll be working with our leaders to understand the capabilities that are important for them to mature and build a roadmap that allows us to identify technology efforts that can enable those capabilities. That will be a major effort for us this year, to make sure we’ve got a good strategic plan and roadmap for the future.
Gamble: That’s so important. In terms of the IT refresh, is this a long-term strategy? What’s the next step?
Daly: One thing we’ll have to balance is how far we look out in terms of solidifying a plan. I think we’ll focus on building that strategic roadmap, knowing that it can change, and building in some governance so that as our market and our environment changes, we’re able to respond by adjusting our strategic plan. We’re identifying those opportunities and making sure we can adjust along the way, so we’re not locked into something so rigid.
I worked in the health plan setting for almost my entire career before I came to Washington Regional, and one thing I’ve definitely learned is that healthcare on the provider side is incredibly dynamic. Things move really quickly and can change fast in regard to patient care, and so managing technology in a way that it can be agile, and enable quick reaction to those needs, is super important, and it’s something we’ll be focused on going forward.
Dealing with Covid really brought that front and center, because we were changing things every day, in some cases, and we learned more about treatment. We were adjusting our plans to serve the community, whether it was a screening center or telemedicine program. We had to move fast. I think we got pretty good at it. What can happen, though, is that it raises expectations to where that’s the new norm. We have to be cautious around that.
Gamble: That’s a really good point. Things were happening so fast, especially in those first few weeks. We heard stories about teams putting in extremely long hours. Did you have to address that and convey to other departments that things aren’t always going to move this fast?
Daly: Yes. Our executive team realized that, as did our providers. It’s the same in their world from a business process perspective in how you execute patient care. Typically, it takes time to change; you evaluate things and be very prudent in how you approach that level of change.
I think there’s an acknowledgement that it may not be the long-term expectation. But it’s interesting because we were in a situation where we all agreed, ‘yes, this is fact, but we have to do it. Let’s make sure we’re going in a direction with our eyes wide open.’ Everyone acknowledged that things may need to change and change fast. That’s where our executive leadership — our CEO, COO, CNO, and our entire team — really stepped up and coached their teams to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and being adaptable.
You mentioned long hours; that was certainly the case. Our teams have worked so many long hours and had to skip vacations. In the early part of Covid, we had folks on our team who worked 40 days in a row, without a break. When you think about all the things we did on the technology side to stand things up, that’s all part of what we do. Our mission is to serve our community; what we’re doing is helping our neighbors, family and friends. And while we may be exhausted, what keeps us moving is the fact that what we do serves the community. Our folks are committed to Northwest Arkansas and our community here. I’m so proud to work for an organization with that level of commitment.
Gamble: Right. You mentioned the time you spent on the payer side — I would think that has really provided you with a unique perspective. Have you been able to draw from that experience?
Daly: I think so. My career has taken a number of twists and turns. Before I was in the health plan space, I worked as a financial analyst. My degree is actually in finance. Straight out of college, I went to work for a third-party administrator analyzing provider contracts. I did financial analysis and worked on system implementations, holding project management and strategy roles. I think puling from all of that has really helped me.
My experience on the health plan side has helped when we’ve worked with our population health and managed care teams to manage their relationships with health plans and leverage data to support quality programs. I don’t need a lot of background and guidance to get the gist of where we need to be. That helps us move a little faster, because some of that may be foreign to other folks in the provider setting, but I’ve been able to enable those teams.
From health plans to healthcare
Gamble: How was that adjustment period when you first came to the provider side?
Daly: I had to really be convinced that I could be successful since moving to the provider side, because I spent over 20 years in health plans. I’m originally from Arkansas; I moved to Texas in the early 2000s to be close to an airport, because I was doing consulting at the time. When I wanted to come home to Arkansas, I did some networking, and got in touch with Becky [Magee], who was CIO at the time. She and I had worked for the same company, First Consulting Group, and when I asked if she knew of any opportunities in Arkansas, she mentioned there was an opening at Washington Regional. I remember thinking, ‘Really, the provider side? I don’t know if I can do that.’
During the next couple months, she told me more about the expectations and the role. And although I had doubts about moving to a different side of health care, what really sold it for me was meeting with the executive team at Washington Regional and hearing their passion and commitment to serving our community. Being from Arkansas, I knew it was a great opportunity to help grow my career while also serving the community. It’s a higher calling.
Once I recognized that, it was an easy decision from that point. I have to admit, I didn’t have a high level of confidence at first. But I think having that level of trepidation and being a little scared can be good; it lights a fire under you to focus, to learn, to absorb, and to ask a lot of questions. From day one, I had fantastic support, not just from Becky but our entire leadership team. The IT staff and the folks in that organization really embraced me and helped me learn and grow and become a better leader to them.
Gamble: I’m sure having that relationship with Becky really helped with your transition to the CIO role.
Daly: Oh yes. I owe a lot to Becky. She really invested in me and spent a lot of time with me during those three years helping me learn and grow and giving me enough rope to make decisions and have some independence. At the same time, she also reigned me in if I needed more information prior to cementing a decision. I’ve been super fortunate in my career. I’ve had opportunity to work with a lot of leaders who took time to invest in me, provide coaching and guidance, and really hold my hand along the way. I’ve been really, really lucky.
Seek to understand
Gamble: And the other part of that is being willing to listen, right?
Daly: I think so. I’ve learned along the way to really pay attention to what folks are saying and take the time to listen and seek to understand. It’s something I try to exhibit and coach as well; just as I’ve had folks invest in me, I try to do the same. We spend a lot of time with our leadership team at Washington Regional talking about growing and investing in our employees, making sure they’re highly engaged, providing them with education opportunities, and helping them grow their career. In the IT infrastructure space, we’re competing with some of the world’s largest companies here in Northwest Arkansas. We have Wal-Mart headquartered here and JB Hunt.
There’s a lot of technology demand here, and so we already had to compete to retain people. It was already difficult, but now, people can work anywhere; the folks you have working on your EHR or building integrations and reports can be recruited from any system or vendor in the country.
I think for us to retain people, we’ve got to provide the growth and career opportunities that help them to be very engaged and also excited about the work they do every day. We talk a lot about that and have made it a focus in our technology organization.
Gamble: That’s so important. Well, I really appreciate your time. It’s been great to hear about work your team is doing. I’d love to catch up again down the road to hear how things are going.
Daly: That would be fantastic. Thank you.