Home » Interviews » Currently Reading:

HIStalk Interviews Mark Zielazinski, CIO of Children’s Hospital of Central California

January 21, 2008 Interviews 1 Comment


You may remember Mark Zielazinski from his days as CIO at El Camino Hospital. He responded in 2006 to a reader comment about that hospital’s problems with its Eclipsys Sunrise implementation, which caused great organizational upheaval and nearly got the hospital shut down, according to newspaper accounts. We agreed to do an interview at some point. It’s taken awhile, but we finally had a chance to talk. Mark’s now CIO at Children’s Hospital of Central California. He was trying to get out of the office for a long Friday commute home when we connected, but was gracious enough to spend time with me.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your job.

I am CIO at Children’s Hospital of Central California, which is the only rural children’s hospital in the United States. It’s actually a pretty big facility. We’re located just outside of Fresno, California, the central valley of California. I think we’re going to be 320-something beds next month. We’re opening up 28 more beds.

Describe your IT shop and how it’s structured.

We’re primarily a Meditech shop. We’ve been a Meditech hospital for 20+ years, so we were an early adapter of the Meditech system back in the mid-eighties, I think.

Beyond Meditech, we have the typical gaggle of supporting systems. We’ve got Picis in the OR. We have Kronos for time and attendance. We’ve got a couple of ancillary systems and KaufmanHall  products for budget and capital. This year we’re going to be replacing our Meditech ERP modules with the Lawson system for ERP. We’ll start implementation this summer and then go live sometime in ‘09. And then for the Meditech products, we’re just starting to do nursing documentation. We’re on the old Magic platform.

We’re doing some things with physicians in ambulatory order management and pharmacy in prescription writing. We’ll upgrade to Client Server in the fall. We’ll start the process this fall. I think that will be done just about the time we go live with the ERP system.

Most readers will remember you from El Camino Hospital. You had problems there with the Sunrise go live and pharmacy department problems on top of that. What lessons did you learn personally from that and what should other vendors and the industry learn?

We did a lot of things right there. I think we were on track with being very successful. I think they’re going to very successful right now. I know Eric Pifer’s there. I think that’s going to go well for him. He’s got a good environment to go from.

We went live in the first part of March 2006. I don’t remember the exact dates, but it was sometime in early 2006. We had missed our initial go-live, which would have been the middle of November 2005. The primary reason for missing was the fact that we couldn’t get our doctors educated. I think the training we had set up for them was about four hours total, in two-hour segments. We actually did it, but we could have done it a little better. We started paying the physicians to attend those classes. We paid them a fixed fee for the two classes. To get the payment, they had to go through and demonstrate proficiency. The lesson is that you have to pay them.

You get so much momentum. We had gone almost three years. We were in the process of building, creating, and moving when we missed our November date. So it was three and half years by the time we went live. I think one of things that’s got to happen is it can’t take that long. You’ve got to find a way to get that stuff to work in such a way that it doesn’t take three years to build a product and get it ready.

This was a place where we had the experience. El Camino had been doing physician-based order entry. They’d been doing nursing charting and documentation. We were doing all that stuff and it still took us a hell of a long time. The products vendors have, and I don’t believe Eclipsys has a monopoly on this problem, are really a tool set. They don’t have a very good set of schematics and plans and starting places for you, as an organization, to be able to drive with that tool set quickly to using it.

You hit the third thing on the head when you said we had department issues in pharmacy.  We really needed to have dealt with that prior to that change. That was a major league change for pharmacy. Even though we were using the pharmacy product, the old E7000 product, it was a pretty manual process without any kind of real automation to it. Even though it was SCM 4.0 and I know everyone talks about the fact that it was an interfaced product versus an integrated product, people have been using interfaced pharmacy products for years and years.

That wasn’t what the issue was there. We had a very serious problem and the pharmacy didn’t do a very good job of managing that. I take some of the hit for that, but I think the organization takes some of the hit for that as well. We ended up actually outsourcing the whole pharmacy management. Once that was done and in place, the vast majority of the issues that were affecting us at the time of go-live and about five months later when we actually did the outsourcing, it kind of disappeared. Not to say that there’s not still learning that’s going on.

Somewhere, I have documents from the original Lockheed-Martin system that ultimately became TDS. It went live in 1971 at El Camino. There was study done in ’75 and another in ’77. They’re really good studies talking about adoption. In six years post go-live of that system, they only had about a 40% participation by physicians. So it’s not something that happened fast back then.

Looking back now, with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, should the plug have been pulled at El Camino because it wasn’t ready?

I think if we would’ve had the issues in pharmacy fixed, I’m not sure that would have had such a negative impact that it had. I don’t know that the system wasn’t ready at that point. I don’t know if we had made some of the pharmacy outsourcing decisions prior to go live; would we have said at go live, “We aren’t ready”, and would we have experienced the same problems. I don’t think we would have, so I think that was where that all ended.

But I think you’re right. We had a committee, a very large group that included the chief nursing officer, myself, and the chief financial officer, looking at that, making the decision and recommending to the board of directors whether we went live. The three of us made that decision. Primarily myself and the chief nursing officer made the decision to pull the plug on the November go live because we didn’t think we were ready. We had physician input on that committee. The committee was basically a group of 28 people that met as we were getting ready to go live on a very regular basis. Not just weekly, but multiple times per week. We made the decision and took it to the board of directors.

When you left El Camino, you went to Sensitron as the COO there. What did you like and dislike about working in that environment as opposed to a hospital?

I’ve been in the private sector and consulting or working for small companies before. I was employee sixteen with Superior. I was very early on with DAOU systems. I actually went through taking DAOU systems public. So I looked at the opportunity with Sensitron as, here was a start-up company. I’m at that time in my life — I’m fifty today — where I thought, “I could try that one more time”.

They were pretty good folks. They were a service provider for us at El Camino. I knew their technology. The CEO had left the hospital. The guys from Sensitron had come to me and offered me an opportunity to participate in that small company start-up thing. To me, it was one more opportunity for me to do that. I’m not sure how many time you can jump in, try to take something and see where it goes. So it looked like a great opportunity.

We never really got our funding set up appropriately. So for them to continue to carry me would have really put an undue burden on their ability to the R&D kind of work. While I was there, we were able to put out a new product. Sensitron does the wireless automation and collection of vital signs from the devices that you move around from room to room in the hospital. While I was there, we also came up with an ICU product that took information off of the stationary monitors in the ICU. So I was able to get a new product out and help them develop a new version of their existing product, and do some alignments with companies

We struck up a partnership relationship with a portable monitoring company. Then our money dried up. We didn’t have any more money coming in, in terms of investment money. And our sales weren’t keeping up with the payroll. I said, “Look, what we really need to do is continue to build our engineering group and our customer services group. Carrying my salary doesn’t make any sense, guys.” So I told them I was going to go off and do some other things, which is what I did. I went off and did my own consulting and then landed a job here at Children’s.

How would you compare your Meditech shop versus being at El Camino?

It is a little bit different. It’s a little tighter system. Looking at the Client Server version of the product we’re looking to go to and looking at the documentation features, there’s a lot of stuff that … quite frankly, I was surprised at how similar it was to some of the capacities in the SCM that I’d put out there. They’ve come a long way.

The last time I had ever worked on anything at all with Meditech was when I was back with Superior in the late eighties. So I’d been away from it for a pretty long time, but they are still pretty rigid in their product. Quite frankly, they’re pretty rigid in their relationship with their clients. When I got here, we didn’t have a plan to go to Client Server, but we had a strong desire to get to doing a lot more electronic documentation, and ultimately of getting CPOE. As I did my research for the first couple of months I was here, it was pretty clear to me that, in order to do that in a very reasoned fashion on a Meditech platform, you really have to be on a Client Server environment, not on a Magic environment. All of the big groups like St Joe’s and Christus and the guys who just went live in Colorado — they’re all on the Client Server platform.

It’s part of the vendor dilemma, where they’ve got an old legacy product on the Magic side that they’re saying ain’t gonna go away for a while. The reality is that it’s really hard for a vendor to maintain multiple products like that. They’ve got to really get on board with something. I think ultimately they will get to that Client Server platform. I don’t know what’s going on in that market yet to see why they feel they’re going to keep managing both Magic and Client Server, but it’s a pretty bulletproof product set for us.

I think, on the ERP side, it’s pretty darned weak. In this organization, before I’d even got here, they had made the decision they wanted to get off of the Meditech ERP products. On the clinical side and the billing and accounts receivable side, I think it’s a really good product. The market share that they have speaks a little bit to that.

Tell me about your department’s operating statistics.

Historically, the budget runs at about 2.6 or 2.7%. Our fiscal year starts October 1. I came on board just in time to finish up the budget process. We are budgeted to be at about 3.2% this year. As I took the position, one of the things we talked about with the executive team coming on board was that I thought that an organization this size should be nearer 4% of the operating budget in terms of the group. At El Camino I was at 4.7% of the operating budget. So that seems right to me.

I have a director of applications, a director of technology, and the director of HIM reporting to me. I’ve also just hired a director for project management and a director … well, I haven’t hired it, but it’ll be an executive director role, physician liaison. I’ll probably to that either late this fiscal year or the beginning of next fiscal year.

In total FTEs in the applications and technology area right now, we’re about 44. By the end of this year, we’ll be at around 48. Into next fiscal year, we’ll probably be into the mid fifties. I don’t see us being larger than 60 people at the top end.

We’re pretty straightforward in terms of the capital budget. We haven’t done a very good job managing the replenishment of the physical infrastructure. So this year, we were about half of the equipment budget for the hospital on a capital basis, and the lion’s share of that is going into replenishing the physical infrastructure. We’re putting in new networking, new wireless, and getting us onto a program that says we’ll replenish the desktops and all that stuff.

We’ll start to roll out some mobile devices. We really haven’t had much mobile device work here, but we’ve got to get that in place if we’re going to electronic documentation. So we’re going add the C5s and some mechanism for putting up some other type of cards. I think that stuff is all happening.

The other part of the capital budget this year is for the Lawson project. I suspect we’ll be somewhere between 20 and 40% of the capital budget for equipment for the next two or three years. And then we’ll get to a point were we’re between 15 and 20% on an annualized basis. We’ll have a real serious replenishment program in place so that we don’t get stuck in this kind of environment again. The board is aware of and has bought into that process.

We’ve had our first IT steering committee earlier this week. They haven’t had an IT steering committee in about nine years here. The last IT plan was done in 1996. But there’s just some bread and butter kind of things that we have to get done and we’re working on.

You were a mobile device advocate at El Camino. How would you say overall the industry is doing in that whole mobile workforce area?

From what I can see overall, we’re typical healthcare — we’re behind the curve. Lots of other industries have taken over mobility a lot faster than we have in healthcare. I think the idea of a specific medical mobile device, like the C5 … I got to participate in that in a very big way, from the conceptual design phase. We were involved in that at El Camino. So I understand it, I believe in it firmly, but I also believe that there’s not silver bullet solution.

Some people are going to want to use mobile tablets. Some people are going to want to use mobile carts. That’s just a fact of life that we’re going to have to deal with here. I believe its true for about every hospital. But, I think, if you were to look out five or ten years from now, I think mobile computing will be the rule for the way access happens in a hospital. Whereas today, even at El Camino, where we deployed it very, very extensively, we still hadn’t gotten to 50% of the devices being mobile devices. El Camino will be one of the places that gets there the fastest, but it will probably be three or four years more where half or more of the devices are mobile devices. But I believe that is going to happen.

You mentioned voice over IP. We did the Vocera stuff. Here, we use VoIP phones. We don’t have a VoIP infrastructure fully deployed. We’re going to do that. I think that concept of personal communications is going to expand in hospitals. I’m a firm believer that and I think it’s got to happen in hospitals relatively soon, and that is, that we have to issue all of our employees some kind of communications access device.

I use the example of this. My youngest child just went to college. He was at California Polytechnic. In order for him to register for class at Cal Poly, he had to prove to them that he had a computing device that he was going to use. He couldn’t register for class until he’d gone through this process of proving to them that he had this computing device. We hire employees here at the hospital, we don’t have that same approach.

I think, at some point, that’s going to happen at hospitals. We are information providers. That’s what we do as an organization. When you really get down to it, we’re really information dependent workers. At some point, just like when we give you your badge, we’re going to give you some kind of computing device. You’ll be responsible for it and use it for all the interactions you have while you’re at work. I don’t know how far off that is, but I think its something that’s coming.

You were at a great location at El Camino for watching technologies develop. When you look across the technologies that might be promising for healthcare, what things do you like?

I like some of the devices that are bringing everything together. My phone, whether it’s a cell phone or a VoIP phone … that same device is going to be my computer. I think that’s happening. I think, in that device, its going to have this concept of personal recognition. So it’s a personal device. Rather than dialing a telephone number, you’ll just type in my name and it’ll get me via voice or via message. However you want to get me.

We’re going get more and more into monitoring people’s conditions. Do you remember Goldsmith’s book Digital Medicine? If you remember that first chapter, where he writes about a scenario, I guess it was the year 2015. The thing that was the most vivid to me out of that whole chapter that he wrote was the fact the guy who was the patient received his treatment diagnosis and everything without ever being either in a physician office or in a hospital. Pretty impressive. I think there are technologies that are coalescing to allow us to do that. They’re going to happen pretty soon. We’re at that tipping point for that stuff to happen. Its a combination of being able to monitor inputs and get information out of folks, without it being necessarily an invasive process, in terms of diagnosing things. Then having a mobile workforce that gets out to deliver care to the patients or the people, wherever they are.

Do you see that as a growing role for a CIO?

I think so. It’s really got to be more upstream and visionary. I haven’t done day-to-day operations for a long, long time. In fact, I’m not sure I’d be qualified to do day-to-day operations. It’s more of a vision, planning and really working with the executive team and the board to get a sense of what’s out there.

A lot of folks say we’re supposed to manage our vendors. One of the main roles of the CIO is to work and manage vendors and vendor relationships. I don’t think that’s a part of my job, but a bigger part of my job, I think, is kind of like what I did when I was with El Camino and Intel … building a partnership where we do interesting things together and bring that to the organization.

That process is what we went through to conceptually design the C5 and see it come out. I was pretty non-involved with the process and outcomes. I worked with the nurses and doctors, but I got them to work with designers and engineers and watch the output. I kind of guided it. I wouldn’t say I was completely out of it, but I wasn’t into the integral processes of that.

Nurses and doctors were just jazzed. There’s no other way to describe it. They were really jazzed that there was someone listening to them and trying to figure out things that they could do. I think that’s the role the CIO needs to play to facilitate those types of activities. Because once those people are jazzed like that about the technology and what’s happening, they start to think about how to change processes to make that stuff allow them to give better care, deliver quality and those type of things. Otherwise, if they’re not involved and jazzed by that process that way, they look at it as just another set of changes coming down on top of them.

When you think about how busy and how difficult it is for the clinicians with increasing activity and increasing volumes, they’re just getting creamed. The last thing they want is another set of changes. So somehow, you’ve got get them jazzed about that in order for them to say, “OK. I can see how this fits in. I can see how I can modify my normal work process to do it this way which will be better. It’ll be better for the patient. It’ll be better for me. Everyone will benefit.” You’ve got to figure out how to get them into that. That’s the role the CIO’s got to play.

What are the biggest problems and opportunities that CIOs face?

Trying to compete for what I believe is going to be a shrinking capital dollar. That’s going to be a huge challenge for them. Secondly, it’s going to be the political challenge of trying to change from simple vendor relationships to partnerships that allow real change to occur. The technology changes are not going be done from within the hospital. You’re going to have to bring technologies from outside the hospital, more likely from outside of healthcare, and apply them in a hospital setting and in a healthcare setting in such a way that brings success to the organization. These are huge challenges for a CIO.

Let’s get to know you better. I’ll give you an item and you tell me what you favorite of that item is. TV show: I watch football. I don’t watch TV other than sports. Sports team: Chicago Bears. Food: Veal chops. City: Verona, Italy. Music: Chuck Mangione. I’m a jazz guy, but I like his horn. Vacation destination: The Orient. I married a Chinese woman. My wife is Taiwanese. I love the Orient. HIMSS conference event: The keynote. Hobby: Bicycling.

Who do you admire in the industry?

Dave Garets. I’ve known him for a long time. Bill Childs and Bill Bria. Those are guys I really admire.

Is there anything that you wanted to talk about that I didn’t ask you?

I know there are a lot of folks I’ve talked with recently. The folks from McKesson are like, ‘What’s going on with Eclipsys?” I did a lot of work before Eclipsys was formed, I did a lot of work when I was at Superior with TDS. So I had a long experience with that company. When I was at Superior, each of the executives had a vendor they were responsible for. I’ve also had a lot of stuff that I’ve done with Cardinal. I guess the one thing that I would tell you about me that people probably don’t know; when I was at El Camino, IT was a big part of my job, but we were completely outsourced there. I was the only non-outsourced employee at El Camino in IT. IT, while it was a big thing, it probably only took about 35-45% of my time.

The remainder of my time there, I was responsible for materials management, all of our purchasing, central distribution, central sterilization. I did a lot of other stuff, which was very intriguing to me. I learned more about hospital management in 5-6 years I was at El Camino by having direct responsibility for that stuff. That was a lot of fun. I did some neat stuff and I learned about logistics distribution. I actually did some work with MIT. We had two graduate students with their teams come out to do work on our logistics stuff. I think we did a lot of neat things in information technology at El Camino. On the supply side, I think we did some even crazier and neater things. As far as I know, we were the first hospital in the United States to go from a six- or seven-day supply delivery schedule to a three-day supply delivery schedule. We did some neat stuff around that. I learned a lot of that stuff that I didn’t know that I’d ever get a chance to do. I really enjoyed that.

View/Print Text Only View/Print Text Only

HIStalk Featured Sponsors


Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. I give this guy a lot of credit for doing this interview. You were pretty tough on him if I recall to the extent that you made it seem like he deserted his post. Have you modified your position in any way after having interviewed him?

Subscribe to Updates



Text Ads

Report News and Rumors

No title

Anonymous online form
Rumor line: 801.HIT.NEWS



Founding Sponsors


Platinum Sponsors
































































Gold Sponsors


















Reader Comments

  • Still doesn't make sense: Why would the tax payers have to charter a private jet for Secretary Price to go visit athenahealth? It smells bad in...
  • Sam: It's really not that funny (or hypocritical as I suspect you're trying to imply). First, if it were a similar story, was...
  • Tomhh: I think what is odious, is when the Obamas went on a a date night to NYC on Airforce One or when the Obamas would take...
  • Tom: RE: Equifax and waiving rights. A week ago, Equifax updated their incident website (https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com...
  • Dyspeptic Fogey: After all this... we still don't know what Smartsheet is. Whoever they are, they have just spent a whole lot of money t...

RSS Industry Events

  • An error has occurred, which probably means the feed is down. Try again later.

Sponsor Quick Links