Cynthia Petrone-Hudock is chief strategy officer of The HCI Group of Jacksonville, FL.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I have a background in financial institutions, about 17 years. I’ve spent about the last eight years in healthcare.
As our mission states at The HCI Group, I focus on collaborating somewhat from a management consultant perspective. I work with clients to identify what their needs are and then develop creative solutions that reduce the cost of healthcare and at the same time improve their ability to increase the quality of healthcare.
We were established to meet the system implementation needs of healthcare organizations, but we promote cost-effective solutions. In the electronic health record arena, that seems to be very important these days.
People always compare healthcare to the early days of banking before ATMs and online services. How do you compare the two?
It’s quite fascinating because I do see a lot of analogies. We are at the stage now in healthcare where we’re selecting systems and implementing them, but then truly sustaining them in a cost-effective way and getting to interoperability.
You think about interoperability in the banking world. They’ve mastered it. I think we’ll push a little further in healthcare when it comes to data analytics and making sure that we’re using the data that we capture in a proactive and focused way. We saw some of that in banking, too, but I think it will mean more in the protocols of care in the healthcare arena.
Treating patients as a customers means hospital systems should include some aspects of a customer relationship management system. Is there a demand for those capabilities?
Yes. A lot of our focus is on business intelligence. We launched a sustaining support service line at HCI. Our goal is to support users of the electronic health record, but when you really think about it, it’s business intelligence of how they’re using that system to meet the needs of their clinicians who are taking care of their patients is what it’s all about.
Maybe the future, when we’re talking about patient engagement, it’s really the analytics around that and the touch points of how the patients are interacting with the healthcare system which will be key. Forward thinking, where are we three to five years from now? It’s full-service care and you can interoperate on the health record. You’re certainly putting that full-service care capability in the hands of a clinician.
Back to the bank analogy, hospitals are putting in systems that run what happens inside the bank or at the ATM, but not how banks market to customers and prospective customers in between and keep them engaged. Could the same transition happen in healthcare?
Yes. I think healthcare is starting to realize that they can get their arms around that capability. We’re seeing it now. We’re seeing it with marketing departments and healthcare systems who are now focused on engaging the consumer. Even with the new consumer technology, whether it’s handing out free Fitbits and having folks proactively start to monitor their health and having reasons for them to be reaching out to the doctor in a proactive way.
It’s exciting. I think we will see that. It gets back to the ability for the patient to be in control of their care. I’m hoping that’s what the enabling technology brings to bear.
For large hospitals, the market has pretty much boiled down to Epic versus Cerner. From the selections you’ve been involved with, why do hospitals choose one versus the other?
They start with their thoughts around the business case and their total cost of ownership, including their incumbent situation. But they do focus on functionality and where they want to get down the road.
Quite often the cultural difference between the two organizations plays in some of the demonstrations and the ability to understand how their patient will be engaging with their organization going forward and whether that’s an integrated touch point or not. Most of my background is in Epic, but The HCI Group is vendor neutral.
How do you characterize the cultural factor differences between the vendors and which one prospects respond to?
I haven’t been around the block enough to weigh in on that from a client’s perspective. I’m guessing different clients would tell you they have different reasons why they are more comfortable in one camp versus the other.
Both systems, of course, are very exciting for us to be working with, and just knowing that we have organizations worldwide that are getting on EHRs for the first time, which is also exciting. We do a lot of work in that space, so I get to see organizations who are literally on paper, and just knowing that they’re going to get on electronic medical records is changing the protocols of care at the moment they go live.
It’s more a fit and feel between the two organizations and whether that organization feels confident that they’ll have interoperability opportunities down the road. I think even the paper-oriented firms abroad are very focused on someday it should all interoperate.
Have hospitals done a good job in understanding and budgeting the post-live requirements for personnel and maintenance costs?
I think there’s a lot of realization going on after they get past the capital period and they’re in their expense mode. They’re realizing that they need to focus on the lowest common denominator.
For instance, our sustaining support line is a good example where when we go into an organization, we help look at the total process of supporting that application. At every point along the cycle, if there’s a way to do that service at a higher quality and a lower cost, of course we assist in improving the process. It’s the ability of having capacity that can ebb and flow, whether you’re looking at an upgrade or you’re looking at bringing in the new module that you didn’t go live with out of the gate.
I do believe the CIOs are finding themselves in the situation where they’re explaining to the CFO why their piece of the total cost of ownership pie has gotten bigger. In some cases, it’s going to stay that way because you can no longer give care without the enabling technology. This is where The HCI Group is going to be able to go in and collaborate. Every organization’s slightly different. Some will say, I need a little support with the Epic application, for instance. Others will say, it’s the whole support model — I just can’t keep the staff on board at the right caliber to be servicing my clinicians. The unique approach by organizations in terms of what is best for their future is where we focus. A lot are going down the path of shared services, which I’m sure you’ve heard about.
Do you think hospitals looked at the cost of these systems as requiring a return on investment or did they just assume they are a cost of doing business?
If you had asked me eight years ago, I would have said they’re a cost of doing business. Now I believe organizations are more focused, even on the international front, with making sure they at least can realize the benefits that go along with spending the money. The return quite often is focused on the quality of care, which is nice to hear.
But there’s a new eye on this total cost of ownership that I didn’t see when I entered eight years ago. It’s exciting for me because some of our international clients are public healthcare systems, and whether you’re spending the public’s money or you’re spending an individual’s or a payer’s money, you still want to be doing it an efficient, effective way. I’m happy to see that.
How are the needs of those international customers different from domestic ones?
We are focused on being recognized as a global leader in delivering innovative IT solutions. What we’re finding is there’s a lot of opportunity on the global front to learn lessons that we’ve experienced here in the States.
I think you do have to take into consideration where they are in the journey. Some are where you may think healthcare in the US would have been 20 years ago. It looks to someone from the States like a pretty simple, low-hanging fruit opportunity, but what it brings is a tremendous transition. I think it’s greater change management for them than we have experienced here as we’ve come along.
In most cases, whether we’re in the UK, the Middle East, or Australia, when I turn the system on, we’ll be changing protocols of care in our country, which is very exciting, to making sure that we’re being fiscally responsible. It’s been wonderful to work in that international marketplace and bring to them lessons learned so they don’t have to maybe climb over the same hurdles that we have done here in the States.
Have you worked on projects where hospitals wanted to involve patients more in their care?
A few organizations, we’ve worked with around patient engagement. The ones that are most exciting, they’re not being really led by the IT department — they’re being led by the business development arm of the organizations.
Of course, in the Epic world, there’s Connect, but then there’s also these opportunities to engage the community in care, some of the new devices that are out for the consumers. What’s exciting about is it there’s a focus to think through new strategies to engage patients. It’s more than just the patient portal. It’s the medical devices that you may be able to use in your home and bringing more home health, which as the baby boomers age, we definitely need to be focused on as an industry. It’s been exciting to be working with the business development arms of the healthcare systems.
Give me some unusual, bold predictions for the next 3-5 years.
It’s really analytics and how we’re going to end up using all of this massive data. I think there will be a blip in inefficiencies since we have the challenge of big data, how we govern, what’s being asked of the IT department to pull out information around that data and use it in a positive way to change care, evidence-based care and research. That’s the exciting part.
We’re all heads down pushing through the new technology today, but the exciting part will be five years from now. There are organizations, of course, that are ahead of the curve and doing it already. But to bring the rest of the country and the world to where we have as close to real-time information to be making great decisions.
Any final thoughts?
In terms of looking at where The HCI Group operates, we’ve just recently brought in a new CMIO, Dr. Bria. He has a fabulous background as one of the founders of the concept of the CMIO. He’s going to be working on some clinical service lines for us which start to leverage the ability of what the electronic health record has brought to the industry. So I guess in closing, wait and see what we’re able to do with it. We’re all excited at The HCI Group to have him on board and to refocus ourselves on the CMIO’s needs and not just the CIOs that we support so well today.