Around five years ago, it became very clear to leadership at Doylestown Health that being able to provide top patient care and compete with other health systems in the Philadelphia area meant it was time for some changes. One of those was promoting Chris Myers to the role of CTO — and later CIO, recognizing that “it’s not an IT director’s world anymore,” he said. Today, organizations need “someone who crosses over different disciplines” and can “look out for clinicians and ask tough questions.”
Recently, Myers spoke with Kate Gamble, Managing Editor and Director of Social Media, about how his diverse career experience — which included time spent with a law firm, as well as an Intelligence Specialist with the U.S. Marines — helped prepare him to lead his teams through the frenzied early days of Covid-19 and adjust to the post-pandemic world. He also shared thoughts on the unique challenges facing security leaders, the importance of “soft skills” and professional development, and why industry experience is not a requirement when hiring and promoting individuals.
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- On the CTO’s scope: The role of the CTO has evolved beyond “building servers and upgrades and keeping technology available and redundant” to one more focused on guiding decisions, ensuring clinicians’ needs are met, and “asking tough questions.”
- On surviving Covid: “We were doing things we had never done before, knowing that the emergency department had to do something quick and all the teams and all the departments that had to support them. And so, we got together and came up with solutions time and time again.”
- On the CIO’s purpose: “It was translating why we had to hurry up and get those drive-thrus and the tents going,” while also completing tasks like integrating with state data to track patients. “I had to redirect and explain why we weren’t doing things that way, and that other things had to become more of a high priority.”
- On learning from his military experience: “You have to adjust your strategy constantly; the enemy reacts, and you adjust. That’s what the Marines are best at. In doing that constant strategy change and adaptability, I was right back to my Marine days.”
- On valuing outside experience: “I’m not always looking for the person that definitely came from a hospital. If I see that growth; that willingness to make difficult choices or to take on challenges, then I like that person.”
Q&A with Chris Myers, CIO, Doylestown Health
Gamble: Hi Chris, thanks so much for your time. For some background, you’ve been with the organization for a little while, but recently took on the CIO role. How long have you been with Doylestown Health?
Myers: Since 2017.
Gamble: And you went from CTO to CIO — it’s definitely a logical progression. Can you talk about how you made that transition?
Myers: I started as IT director, which is something I had done for years at other jobs. But 2017 was a different world. We were worried about security, doing digital transformation, upgrades — there was a natural progression. The cloud was big and more people were getting involved. All of that normalcy stopped with Covid.
Right before Covid, because of changes in virtualization and third-party usage, a lot of departments didn’t buy servers in a big installation of an application or a system. It’s ‘we’re going to buy this, it’s in the cloud.’ You need somebody to be sitting there with the department head or a very good clinical person to think of all the questions that they’re not going to think of. It’s easy to say, ‘it’s in the cloud’ or ‘it’s in a website,’ but there are a lot of other things that need to be asked: where it lives, how it is secured, and what happens when we walk away.
“It’s not an IT director’s world”
It was around that time that my previous boss realized it’s not an IT director’s world anymore. Organizations need someone who crosses many different disciplines and can look out for clinicians and ask those tough questions that you don’t know about unless you ask. And they would sign up for it, but if a breach or outage happened, where’s the data? How is it accessed? What’s plan B? Doing website to website is easy; I would have to go in there and think of the worst-case scenarios or force them to go a little deeper with documentation.
“You have to know your assets”
Salespeople like to keep it lean and mean. As a leader, you have to keep them in check and make sure to divulge the security practices and locations. You have to have those on file. We’ve seen it when an incident happened, and we had to go back to what was originally said and where the data live. We’re constantly watching the news and seeing outages with global providers, Amazon, Azure, etc. You have to know your organization. You have to know your assets. You’ve got to know where they live in order to go back and say, ‘Does this even affect us?’ And it would either be, ‘we have no data living there,’ or ‘We have data there.’ In that case, you get key people together and go back to that moment where you had them pitching and were signing up for a system. We need to recall all of that information because now we have a problem, and we might have to report it to people.
CTO versus IT director
That’s more than building servers and doing upgrades and keeping technology available and redundant. When I became CTO, it was more about being a guide. An IT director puts things in place and makes projects happen. As CTO, I felt I was guiding more people, more departments, and more decisions, because now the world was changing.
Dealing with Covid-19
Gamble: It seems like putting the ‘C’ in front of a name changes a lot of things. It’s a leadership role where you have to have knowledge in a lot of different areas and be able to look at things differently.
Myers: Yes. We had quite a time with Covid. We had all the normal stuff plus Covid operations. That means thinking on your feet; working closely with other department heads and having a can-do attitude. That’s how we got through it — doing things we had never done before, knowing that the emergency department had to do something quick, and all the teams and departments had to support them. And so, we got together and came up with solutions during Covid time and time again, aside from our day jobs.
Gamble: When Covid first hit, was the organization in a position to be able to make quick adjustments? Did you have the infrastructure in place?
Myers: Some things had to be delayed which slowed down our upgrades, our transformations, and our strategic goals. The enhancements had to take a little bit of a back seat because we had the M*A*S*H style tent out in the parking lot. We were one of the first to have the drive-thru test and the vaccines.
We’ve planned and trained with the emergency management team when there’s a surge or an outage or downtime. And so, I would say we were ready people-wise and skills-wise, but we had to adapt on how to scale that or do it outside their home base or their comfort zone. They had to use PC carts and register people in the parking lot and bring equipment outside, which meant expanding WiFi into a larger footprint outside. We had machines and equipment in the tent and inside the four walls. We had the power infrastructure. We had redundancies built in, but now we had to make them mobile and put them outside.
In terms of thought process and commitment, we were ready. We just had new requirements for the scenarios that we planned for; I think that’s why we were successful.
Transforming to the CIO side
Gamble: What was your strategy as far as the different leadership style that was needed? This was something no one had been through, so you really had to make sure people were okay and check on your teams, while acknowledging that you’re asking a lot of them.
Myers: This is where my mindset transformed into the CIO side. Even though I hadn’t gotten the title yet, I became almost like an air traffic controller. It was translating to my team that you can’t do everything 100 percent according to best practices and by the book. Business impact triumphs everything. In our world, it’s not necessarily shareholders, but patients.
At that point, it was translating why we had to hurry up and get those drive-thrus and tents going. We added on data integrations with the state because they were tracking the amount of Covid patients. There was a lot of reporting. We had our whole day jobs pretty much planned out: we were going to upgrade certain systems. We were going to have somebody come and do a health check. We were going to get a demo on something to do better. And for me, I had to redirect and explain why we weren’t doing it that way, and why other things had to become more of a high priority.
The “secret sauce”
When we outgrew our drive-thru, we leased the space. It was a former water bottling facility, and so, it had great large retractable garage doors. We were able to get an inside facility where about five cars could be covered and inside waiting to pull up to our clinical staff and get their tests. For the team, it was knowing we were getting a new building and had to quickly have internet, WiFi and everything else set up to do Covid tests and eventually administer vaccines. That was just critical for everybody — making sure your staff knows and make sure everyone buys into and understands the new priorities. It helps them do their job. Not everyone can do it. I think that’s the secret sauce; being able to explain technology and teach it. For a CIO, that’s the mastery — being able to explain priorities.
“Other front” in the war against Covid
Gamble: A lot of organizations prior to COVID had been through surges or things like natural disasters where it’s definitely more of a temporary thing. There was no playbook for something like this. Is that when the challenges really came — when it became clear that this was a prolonged thing and people needed to be continuously motivated?
Myers: I think the challenges happened when the internal operations had to change with the clinical priorities. The drive-thrus, the vaccines, the infusions we were doing — all of that was new, and we still had patients in the ICU and the emergency room. Kids were still breaking bones and people were still getting sick.
Everybody is trained to do those things and we adapted easily, but then you had staff getting sick and kids doing home learning. There was this whole other front in the war against Covid; that’s where the challenges happen in trying to make sure an entire department didn’t get Covid and get called out and quarantined and we couldn’t support people. It was making all those internal adjustments when the facial barriers went up and social distancing and moving people home; that added another layer of changes and support. That’s when I think it got really challenging. Not just the outside change but an internal operational change at the same time.
Gamble: And it was also probably about keeping the same rapport you have with people you were used to seeing in person. That was a big adjustment for a lot of people.
Myers: We were in a good spot. We were evaluating a couple different platforms for collaborations — Teams, Zoom, Cisco, WebEx. I honed in on Zoom because they were in a good position to do VAA and a healthcare solution. We had just signed up, probably a month before COVID really got thick. When we closed all of our conference and meeting rooms, we transitioned very quickly to an online presence.
I think the ease of Zoom helped us get meetings going almost without skipping a beat. We had that set up immediately when everyone was sent home. The hospital continued to run with huddles and provider meetings. Everything still happened fairly quickly because we had Zoom ready to go. That was a big win for us to keep everything working.
The enemy reacts, you react
Gamble: For you having experience in other areas, including the military, how did that come into play when you were dealing with something so foreign?
Myers: It’s similar. I was in the Marines; they pride themselves on adaptability. The OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop gets you through so many things and unknowns. In the military and on the battlefield, you have to adjust your strategy constantly. The enemy reacts and you react. That’s what the Marines are the best at. With that constant strategy change and adaptability, I was right back in my Marine days — we even had a tent. I was actually an intel specialist with an infantry battalion which has a headquarters and a tent that constantly moves. As the battle progresses, the command structure moves along with it. The Marines have a mobile force with Humvees and radios and power, and everybody’s trained to basically set up a mini office command out in the field. And so, I found myself calling my UPS vendors and making sure we had protected power for the generator that was being wheeled up for the tent outside and getting all the equipment in there and having the same network as we would inside the building. It was very similar to my time in the Marines. One day it’s the emergency department tent. The next day it’s a drive-thru, and the next day patient visitors aren’t allowed to come in and there’s a greater need for video communication from the patient. That adaptability is key, and I felt right at home.
Gamble: That’s really interesting. Were there any instances especially during COVID or even during like other times where you really felt like your previous experience really helped make a difference?
Myers: So, I’ve never been afraid to switch verticals or industries, and it’s something I’ve passed on to interns and other people coming up in the business world. I worked in sales alongside some very high-profile salesmen. I worked at a law firm and saw lawyers handling very important cases. Now I’m here with providers and critical care clinicians, and there’s always this element of knowing who are the ones that drive the business. In my world, they’re the ones that need the most reactive support and the best operational enhancements make those key people better.
When you see the same personalities in different settings, it helps you focus. It helps you find the people that are going to drive your strategy. I don’t know if you see that when you’re in the same industry for decades. But when you get a chance to jump between different industries like that, it makes it a lot easier to read the temperature of the organization and translate priorities to your team. I’m used to doing things like a last-minute deposition for a case or a deadline due for a proposal for a quote. In the Marines, it was packing up and moving over the hill. Having multiple experiences makes you versatile and able to adapt to many things. I think because of my history, whether it’s an outage or a pandemic, I’d be ready to adapt and address it.
Gamble: As far as coming to Doylestown, and to the provider side, was it a difficult adjustment? How was the experience for you?
Myers: It was not, because I’ve been completely surrounded by healthcare family members. Going into it, I know I had a support network. My wife is a physical therapist. My mother-in-law is a nurse. My sister-in-law is a nurse. My mom ran a lab. I was no expert, but I was around it. I’ve seen them come home after crazy days. I’ve seen my wife sign up for extra shifts because of patient loads. I’ve seen that side of healthcare outside of a hospital and how it affects people — why they do what they do and how hard they’ve all worked, and that made me want to do it. It made me want to go in there and make their lives easier.
Even today, in a lot of decisions I make, I think about the experience of my mom in the lab, my mother-in-law in the ICU, or my wife with a patient. How would that decision affect them? What would they want to know? Would it make their life easier, or would it be more clicks and more things to do on a very busy day? I think it helped me and that definitely persuaded me to accept the challenge.
Skills and hunger
Gamble: It’s a really interesting perspective. When you’re hiring people or elevating people, what are you looking for?
Myers: Basically, skills and hunger jump out. If you’re not coming from the same exact place and maybe you haven’t done the exact same job but you’re willing to learn, you’re going to do everything right. You’re going to be professional and that goes a long way. That’s a good investment.
The other thing is, because I’ve been in other industries, I’m not always looking for the person that definitely came from a hospital. I know the success stories with some of these candidates, and so I’m open to that versus someone who did the same exact same job at a very similar organization.
Sometimes you have a quick retirement and it’s a really good fit. But certain jobs are harder to come by these days, and so, if I see that growth inside, that willing to make difficult choices or to take on challenges, then I like that person. Hands down.
Security is “no longer just firewalls”
Gamble: I think that’s really a good perspective especially since healthcare has seen a lot of challenges and sometimes having that outside perspective can really make a difference. What else do you consider to be your core objectives at this point?
Myers: Security, of course. There are very few people in this organization that do what my security team and I do. It’s a tall order. It’s educating thousands of people and putting in systems that touch every aspect of the organization. The list keeps going on and on. Security is no longer just firewalls and spam filters; there’s a reliance on the business for the security professionals to keep the business going when something happens and it’s a world that emergency management has to adapt and work with.
That’s a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of planning, and a lot of documentation. In the world we live in, hospitals are always having incidents. And so, the probability of something happening is a when and not if. It’s planning that today’s threats are not the same as tomorrow’s threats, and you have to constantly adapt. You can’t ignore that. Just like when there are fires in the community or crime is on the rise in your area; you take measures or change your priorities because of that. We’re surrounded by threats, and so, you have to have constant development and discussions about security.
Back to normal
Another one is just getting back to normal. We put a lot of things on hold, and we have a lot of financial challenges — what does that mean post-Covid? We’re not necessarily out of the woods. Can we stretch some systems? Can we push some things off? What really needs to be upgraded? We’re reevaluating what the priorities are while still being behind where were before COVID. Navigating that is another big one.
Lastly, it’s getting back to some of the professional development we were doing before Covid; getting your team exposed to other departments and doing things to invest in your team. We’re trying to get back to that. Our organization has made some recent new hires. We have some initiatives where people can get into the same room to have a meeting about conflict resolution and all those soft skills people need to do their jobs.
For years, there wasn’t time to have those development type meetings or training sessions. We’re getting back to that now. I’m trying hard to remove roadblocks or deadlines to get people to attend online training, go to department classes, and even meet with managers more. We know what needs to be done. We know what needs to be fixed and upgraded, but everybody wants to keep progressing and I think it’s our responsibility to take the time out to say, ‘let’s talk about what you want to do in 5 years’ or ‘what skills aren’t you getting,’ because the work and the operational tempo is so high that you’re going to blink and 5 years will have flown by. I’m really trying to focus on our people.
Gamble: There’s such a big need for that, especially during the last few couples. It’s so hard to find the time and resources, but people still need to develop and enhance soft skills. I think we’re seeing how important those things can be.
Myers: I agree. That’s where an outside higher or perspective is just a fantastic strategy. Even with the team that we have now, everybody is hungry for this stuff. They don’t have to necessarily understand the operation of the hospital but being there with almost a refreshing wind of ‘let’s talk about you’ and ‘let’s talk about how you can navigate the stuff better’ — everybody is hungry for that.
And they like to talk about the COVID days and that’s probably important too. We share our experiences and our challenges and now I just connected on a totally different level with some other leaders and some other department heads. And at the same time, we talked about conflict resolution or diversity or those soft skills that are going to make the team better and ultimately, the hospital.