It may seem counterintuitive to hear a healthcare IT leader say she encourages her team to “get out of IT.” But to Tanya Townsend, who has held the CIO role at LCMC Health since 2014, it makes complete sense. She believes the most critical skillset for digital health leaders is to “understand the business of healthcare,” which means getting out of firefighting mode and focusing on “how we make a difference for our clinicians and our patients,” and tell that story.
During a recent interview, Townsend talked about LCMC’s significant growth – and what that has meant from an IT perspective; the most important lessons they learned during the pandemic; and how her team is ‘Putting the Patient First.’
She also discussed the keys to change management in a large organization, the challenges they faced moving several independent hospitals to an integrated platform, what she hopes to accomplish during her tenure as CHIME Board Chair (which begins in January of 2022), and how she has benefited from her involvement with the organization.
For those planning to attend the CHIME21 Summer Forum, Townsend is serving as a moderator for the Opening Keynote Panel on Wednesday, June 16 at 11 am EDT. The panel will include member stories from Richard Corbridge (CIO, Boots IT UK), Angela Diop (VP, Information Systems, Unity Health Care) and Aaron Miri (CIO, Dell Medical School & UT Health Austin, University of Texas at Austin). For more information on the event — which will be broadcast live from three locations — please click here.
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- As LCMC continues to grow, IT’s primary focus is on “patient engagement, patient access, and expanding our virtual care and telemedicine capabilities.”
- What’s just as important, is partnering with clinicians “to ensure we’re providing the right capabilities” and to ensure ease of use with all of their tools.
- Because LCMC put in the work to move to a fully integrate network, users were able to implement best practices and share data across organizations. “If the pandemic had hit a couple of years ago, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible.”
- A key lesson learned from Covid? Organizations know how rapidly they can pivot and implement solutions. “We can’t go back to the norm of going through a long bureaucratic approval process.”
- Townsend came to LCMC in 2014 “with a vision of integrating this network of hospitals and building a shared services model and a technology roadmap.” Six and a half years later, “we’re an integrated delivery network.”
Q&A with Tanya Townsend
Gamble: Let’s start with a brief overview of LCMC Health — what you have in terms of hospitals, where you’re located, etc.?
Townsend: LCMC Health stands for Louisiana Children’s Medical Center. We are a six-hospital system based in the New Orleans market. Our founding hospital is Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, which is a dedicated pediatric facility. The other five hospitals are all in the adult market, and have a wide range of services. We have the only Level 1 trauma center and teaching facility in this area, in partnership with Children’s and local academic partners. And we have a number of other services for the other four adult hospitals in this market. That’s a little bit about who we are.
Gamble: What do you consider to be your top priorities at this point?
Townsend: We have a consumerism strategy that we call Putting the Patient First. That’s our main focus; ensuring we have a top quality, convenient experience for our patients. Even if that means we need to do things less traditionally such as providing more online access, more telemedicine, and changing our hours of operation. That’s really the driver in all of our strategies right now. We are continuing to grow.
Another strategy is expanding our organization and our footprint, and of course the technical response that comes with it. But our main focus really is patient engagement, patient access, and expanding our virtual care and telemedicine capabilities. We all experienced that explosion overnight once Covid hit, and now we’re continuing to expand those capabilities. We want to provide a quality and safe experience for our patients, and so we’re doing more around monitoring and advancing patient outcomes, and of course, avoiding any preventable harm.
Having said that, we also don’t want to forget about our clinicians. And so it’s also a key part of our strategy to ensure their experience is efficient from a technical and digital perspective, and to ensure ease of use with all of their tools. We want to partner with our clinicians to ensure we’re providing the right capabilities, especially in the teaching environment.
We’re doing a lot around predictive analytics and social determinants of health; trying to understand how to use the data and how to respond to what that data are telling us. We’re all very much aware of all of the security challenges and threats we’re facing — not just in healthcare but in all industries, and so continuing to advance and mature our cybersecurity posture is something we need to be cognizant of.
We also want to leverage our technology investments. We have an integrated EHR; that was completed until we made another acquisition this past year. And so we’re continuing to expand all of our technology investments to our growth opportunities, and reduce some of the redundancy through an application rationalization strategy. Last but not least, we’re monitoring what’s going on around public policy and being advocates for that, and being compliant with the new information-blocking rules while continuing to advance our interoperability capabilities. That’s some of what we’re working on with digital health.
Gamble: When you talk about expanding the footprint, is that happening largely through acquiring practices?
Townsend: It’s a little bit of everything, whether it’s through a full merger acquisition, which our organization did a lot of over the last several years, or just looking for opportunities to partner with others in our community. We’re focusing on that population health approach so that we’re able partner with organizations to make it a great experience for our shared patients.
As our organization continues to have internal expansion and growth by adding new service lines and/or territories, we’re no longer confined to the New Orleans market. We have patients who travel throughout this geography, and so telemedicine will continue to be a priority.
Gamble: Having that academic component, I can imagine it offers a lot of opportunities, but also presents some challenges in harnessing the data and leveraging it improve care. Can you talk about the strategy there?
Townsend: With the exception of the new acquisitions I mentioned, we’re now on a fully integrated electronic health record; we completed that project two years ago. Prior to that, one of our hospitals was actually on paper and the rest were on completely disparate systems. And so, as you can imagine, information sharing would have been nearly impossible to do in that environment, particularly as fast as we had to do it during the pandemic as we responded to Covid. We certainly didn’t want that pandemic to happen, but it definitely highlighted why we did what we did.
Data sharing capabilities
It was, of course, a very intense project and a big investment, but we absolutely leveraged it for all of the data that we now have at our fingertips. We were able to very quickly assess what was going on in our hospitals. We were able to immediately put in best practices and share those across the hospitals with one single implementation. We were able to share that data across other organizations across the nation and even worldwide, because we do have those capabilities through various data warehouse platforms and de-identified information. Those are just a few examples.
Of course, during the pandemic, there were other issues that came to light around racial injustice. And so we did a lot around assessing data regarding social determinants of health, and looking at how we could leverage that information to understand it and identify where the opportunities are and how we could reach patients in an underserved community. And beyond that, how we could immediately put in action plans such as mobile testing and mobile vaccinations for those individuals.
I had this conversation with my boss recently; and we said that if the pandemic had hit a couple of years ago, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to do everything I mentioned at the speed that we did it. It really highlighted why we did what we did, and the need to continue to advance that forward.
Gamble: So the hospitals have been live for about two years. And they’re on Epic?
Townsend: Yes. We went live in three waves, with the last one coming at the end of 2018. Now we’re rapidly deploying to the latest hospital acquisition, which was completed in October of 2020.
Gamble: You mentioned that Covid helped make a strong case for having integrated records and being able to leverage technology in general. I imagine it was validating as a CIO.
Townsend: Definitely. I think one of the lessons learned coming out of the experience is the rapid pace that was required to be able to pivot and implement solutions. That’s the biggest lesson — that we can’t go back to the norm of going through a long bureaucratic approval process to try something, which then gets very little adoption because the change management piece wasn’t quite where we needed it to be. That happens when people have a choice; during the pandemic, we didn’t really have a choice. We had to rapidly try something and couldn’t really wait for perfection. Now that we’ve proven that it works, we can’t go back to the way things were.
So yes, it’s been very validating. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. When I think about where things were 20 years ago with a whole lot of paper and trying to fight the fight on why things like evidence-based medicine and CPOE needed to be adopted, those were real debates back then. That’s not even a conversation. Now it’s, how do we do more of that?
Gamble: How long have you been with the organization?
Townsend: I’ve been here six and a half years. I mentioned a little bit about the growth and start-up of LCMC Health starting as Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and expanding from there. I’m actually the organization’s first CIO. I was hired in 2014 with a vision of integrating this network of hospitals and building a shared services model and a technology roadmap. Six and a half years later, that’s what I’m continuing to do.
Gamble: That must have been interesting being the first CIO and being part of the strategic planning. One of the hospitals was even on paper, so I can imagine it was a big lift to get to where you are now from a digital standpoint.
Townsend: It definitely was. It wasn’t just putting in technology. As CIOs, we all face the same challenges, but it was really about building a concept of shared governance. All of the hospitals that are part of our organization were longstanding, independent, very proud organizations that had their own identity, their own culture, their own way of doing things, and their own technology and levels of maturity.
And so, to come in and have to say, ‘Now we need to do a shared governance model,’ we wiped the slate clean, so to speak. It was like we said, ‘we need to leverage your experience, but we’re starting fresh with a whole new roadmap and a new vision.’ It was a lot of communication; it definitely wasn’t a destination to shift that way of thinking — it was a journey. And now we’re an integrated delivery network.