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HIStalk Interviews Bill Shickolovich

September 16, 2009 Interviews 1 Comment

Bill Shickolovich is VP/CIO at Tufts-New England Medical Center of Boston, MA.

You recently spoke at a conference about what hospitals should do now for ARRA. What did you say? 

I think you’re referring to a dialogue we had with HealthLeaders. That may have been back, I think, several months ago. Essentially, it was a nice round table with a series of folks nationally. I think the punch line that I was trying to get through and essentially what the others were aligning to is to first understand where you are relative to your own strategy. I think that’s first and foremost.

What we’re doing is resetting our strategy. We already have a strategy in motion relative to the elements of meaningful use. The stimulus is not making us do anything new. But it has drawn attention to understanding how much of what we’re doing lines up with the various financial opportunities.

So what I recommend people to do is to understand and have a strategy. If you don’t have one, get one. If you have one, ensure that you based on that with your leadership. Then go to a process of education. Overlay what stimulus means relative to your strategy. Simply, do you go in a different direction or do you accelerate, essentially, is what it nets down to.

That’s what we were recently in the process of doing. And it helps us to say, “Here’s the dialogue, here’s what the strategy in our program was prior to this opportunity, and here’s the various elements and scope of schedule and budget, and here’s now what it may mean relative to some of the things that we better understand now, and here are some of the things that we know, here are the things respectively that we don’t know, and of what we don’t know, we’ve gone out on a limb a little bit and through their resources tried to figure where that’s going to go, and help our leadership understand that we’ll be back to you in a monthly basis to talk a little bit about and as things mature, it has the opportunity to affect our direction the following ways.”

So essentially everyone talks about governance, but essentially I think it’s critical relative to this topic to keep leadership informed as to how your current strategy relates to what is happening and what may happen.

You’re actively involved in translational medicine. What are the IT implications?

We are, as you know, a CTSI awardee, and the clinical translation activities have broad implications to try to help various research enterprises collaborate. When we first looked at it, we were thinking, “Boy, this has very, very deep consequences.” But we’re now respectfully at the basic level of trying to just create various toolsets to at least understand and inventory what researchers are doing.

Furthermore, we’re creating some basic level of capabilities and, I hate to admit it, these are basic directories starting with human inventory. Who are the researchers, where do they work, and how do I get in touch with them?

So you’d think when this whole thing first came out, we had a deeper strategy that got into the weeds a little bit. We started to just say, “Let’s get started here a little bit.” And then we realized we’ve got to start at ground zero, and that is basic understanding of what the CTSA is in ARRA, an inventory of what people are doing, putting up a web portal and a collaboration tool, if you will, to try to help people share and exchange information, and help people understand who people are.

Those are some of the early things we found that we took for granted a little bit, because each organization does a certain amount of that on their own. But it’s taken us a little longer than we thought, relative to getting off the ground.

What we do now is we meet quarterly with various CIOs and their respective institutions and talk a little bit about what we’re doing, how it lines up, and how it relates to what other people are doing. I think we’re still in the formative stages, if you will.

What are your capabilities and plans about storing and analyzing data for quality improvement?

Great question. We are making heavy bets in our EHR program. Right now, our capabilities are around basic registry technologies, around claims data. We are working very hard to implement and deploy our EHR technology through eCW — we’re an eClinicalWorks customer. We are deploying that to our community physicians. We’re beyond our pilot now and are into our first wave of general deployment.

We are building in all of the necessary quality measures within that deployment. We’ve got a quality AQHC contract with Blue Cross that we recently completed this past year, and it’s imperative we meet those quality measures. So our quality strategy relative to information technology is leveraging our existing technologies, which consist of the patient registry and certainly our key information system, and working very hard to incorporate and ensure that any and all deployments subsequent to our deployment right now in the community encompass those various quality measures that we are contractually bound to.

It’s exciting. When you correlate investment and technology deployment to physician value and what it’s going to mean to them and to their paycheck, it’s an incredible moment.

Dr. Halamka and I had recently spoken; we collaborated on a dialogue. He had a great way to frame it. Certainly, when you speak of physician compensation, that is a very important driver to compliance. We’re finding that in order to get the adoption that we’re working very hard to gain, meeting the AQHC measures is critically important to our clinician base relative to their compensation.

How is the physician acceptance with your ambulatory and inpatient applications?

The acceptance has been very good. It’s not without its challenges, and I think you and the industry knows that. Our pilot has gone extremely well by the measure that we consider; our adoption rate has been very good.

But as we move out into general deployment, we are certainly uncovering some issues that we all have faced. It’s a constant balance between how fast you go and how much support and how much care and feeding do you give along the way.

And so our general acceptance of the technology and the strategy has been very good. It’s completely tied to our business strategy; our clinicians recognize it’s an imperative.

However, it doesn’t help us when there are various technology issues which compromise adoption. We’ve had a few of those recently, and we’re working very hard to mitigate this.

On the acute side, we are a Siemens Soarian customer, and we’re proud to say we’ve done what we consider a fair amount of work with it. We’ve actually got between 47 and 52 percent of our orders that are being entered electronically by our clinicians, and that’s on a voluntary basis.

We did not mandate that. That was actually something that our house staff came to us with and simply stated that the pressures that they are under to deal with throughput and deal with length-of-stay issues and deal with basic efficiencies, it was simply that they wanted to get off paper so badly that they were willing to work with us in a hybrid fashion to create a series of interim states relative to order processing. The house staff has adopted it extremely well.

So what are your top IT priorities over the next three to five years?

Our top IT priorities are to continue the deployment of our community EHR — that’s going to go through 2011. We’re working very hard to get in line and ensure that we have significant penetration, if not 100% penetration by then.

Two is to continue our acute information technology strategy, which includes completing medication administration, which is scheduled to be done in the acute side this fall, and move into the intensive care units, and to begin and complete the deployment of medication CPOE which is scheduled to start this winter.

Our top priorities for the next several years is to essentially meet and exceed the meaningful use criteria, so as not to leave any opportunity if subsequent funding comes on the table. We are not economically in a position to do so.

It’s not driving our strategy, because again, as I stated earlier, it’s something that’s already been in flight, but now that it’s out there, it’s certainly getting a lot of attention in light of our economic position and our competitive space in the market. We cannot afford to leave any of those funding, any of those dollars on the table if we can help it.

What would you say are your three biggest challenges as a CIO?

I think that the number one challenge right now is access to capital. I think that we all understand the economic climate that we’re in, and notwithstanding the value of healthcare information technology — I don’t think we suffer from understanding its value and importance to us; it’s reconciling the other various priorities and institutions, and ensuring that we can do the necessary things outside of IT for capital funding, and also IT.

So it’s access to capital. The markets haven’t helped us, obviously, in that way. It’s a scramble. I think that’s one.

Two, it’s respectfully dealing with the change management associated with deploying these strategies. These are not technical, and I understand not all that complex — they are tricky — but dealing with all the change management issues in a way that deploys technology in a meaningful way, pardon the pun, to get a meaningful business result in a short period of time is tricky.

Dealing with vendors that are still coming up the curve — I think they have a long road ahead of them relative to understanding what it really takes to have a successful deployment. I think we’ve come a long way, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I think the ARRA pressures will further compromise their ability to get it, if you will.

So access to capital and managing the confluence of change relative to clinical information system deployment, I guess, are my top two barriers right now, or challenges that we’re working through. I mean there’s a whole host of others. [laughs]

Keeping the infrastructure alive and running is sort of a variant to access to capital, but everybody wants the sexy new things, everybody’s pushing to deploy, and I think that’s good and we’ll be doing it for many years. But we can’t forget that there’s an investment required to have a stable and secure architecture or infrastructure.

That’s something that I think there’s a temptation, in my opinion in this space, that there’s a recognition and a deference to it, but in organizations that are financially compromised or challenged, it’s sometimes one of those things where people say, “Yeah, I know we need some more servers, I know we need some of these things, but we’re probably going to put that off because we need a new MRI machine.”

Those are difficult decisions, but decisions that are real and get made every day.

If someone asked you to list the three most important things you’ve learned as a healthcare CIO, what would you say?

Be relevant. [laughs] Relevance is probably the top of my mind. Coming from a managing consulting background, I don’t think it was hard for me to understand, but I probably underestimated it, respectfully. It was surprisingly something that I learned early on that can’t be underestimated. I think that that’s significant.

Two, I guess, understand what’s going on. It’s a variant of relevance. I think that one of the most important things that we should be doing is to understand how the operation, how the organization works. If we are to understand the business strategy, if we are to try to align our technology strategy to it, we cannot be irresponsibly neglectful to the operations of the institution.

I think that we have an opportunity or a tendency in the industry simply to look at the business strategy, look at IT high level strategy and just march toward and through it, and we forget what it takes along the way.

So a big lesson learned to me was: a) relevance, and b) understanding. Understanding, connecting all the dots, and not just the top two dots.

That was two, right?

That was two. [laughs] You need a third?

If you don’t have a third, that’s OK. [laughs]

There are so many. I think, communication. Being engaged — it’s all part of relevance. Relevance to me is such a broad and important topic that it covers these other things respectfully, variations of it. Yeah, I think I’m going to hang with my top two.

Anything else you’d like to share? Any wisdom?

I don’t know about wisdom. [laughs] I’m just a simple CIO, right? I think that it’s an extremely exciting time; I think that we all recognize it. The good news is, in light of the healthcare reform in ARRA, it’s shining a light on the topic that I think many of us have implicitly understood as needed, but we’ve struggled with one of the number one barriers, and that is cost. ARRA doesn’t make that go away, but it certainly greases that conversation, right?

I think that’s great. It’s a wonderful time, it’s a perfect storm. I hope we get it right. We are in an interesting time where it’s directionally correct, if I may use that term, where we understand how healthcare reform has to happen and it’s not something we should wait for forever to materialize.

Technology is important to the space in achieving its local and national goals relative to quality and safety outcomes, and certainly some level of fiscal responsibility around the space.

So it’s directionally correct, but the devil is in the detail. I hope that we find an effective balance between our drive and our desire to move forward as quick as we can in light of what we haven’t done, in the last 10 to 20 years, but yet I hope we don’t do so in a way that doesn’t take into account the necessary details that really need to be thought through.

That’s the tricky balance that I think, respectfully, we as an industry and the government has to reconcile. We all know good strategies that were directionally correct but got caught up in the mud and didn’t go anywhere, and we’ve also seen directionally correct strategies take off significantly without the appropriate — not vetting, but appropriate balance of reality.

This is so important not just to our healthcare ecosystem. It is almost a fifth of the economy. We’re talking about a significant element to who we are, that the stakes are so high that finding an effective balance is so critical. I think in the short term measured in months, call it six, and in the long term within the next three to five years.

I personally have a high confidence level in John Glaser and others as a former customer, and certainly as a colleague, who’s such a good rational thinker. I just hope that our governmental process gets it right.


After our interview, Dell announced its expanded presence in the PM/EMR world. It turns out Tufts was instrumental in helping Dell (and eCW) develop the basic framework for Dell’s offering. We went back to Bill and asked him if Tufts is working with any major corporations in developing their EMR strategies.

To summarize Tufts’ role, about a year ago Bill approached Dell and asked them to assist with the deployment of EMR to their community physicians. Though Dell and eCW already had a relationship, Bill brought the parties together to discuss how everyone could work together to create a new delivery model that would benefit the health system, the physicians, and the vendors. The health system lacked the resources required to provide physical support, including helping physician offices with infrastructure assessment, design, hardware procurement, deployment, and support.

Dell was interested in expanding its footprint in healthcare, especially on the services side. eCW’s expertise is software and not hands-on support.

In the end, Tufts established a support model that does not require an in-house help desk, but relies on Dell for physical support and eCW for software support. Bill anticipates the model will save 5-10% on support costs over five years, compared to providing services in-house or through a boutique vendor. Based on the success of the initial pilot installation with Tufts and ECW, Dell further tweaked its healthcare strategy into the model announced this week.

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Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Great comment about the ARRA money. Way too many providers use that as a business reason for EHR. Clearly the EHR decision needs to be made separate and apart from whatever Washington may or may not do. I’d say the same for Meaningful Use and Certification, believing that neither will play a role 3 years from now.







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