Home » Interviews » Currently Reading:

HIStalk Interviews Tanya Townsend, Director of IT at Saint Clare’s Hospital

November 14, 2007 Interviews 2 Comments

Tanya Townsend

Every CIO’s dream is to start fresh with a new hospital in a new market with all-new employees, choosing technologies from scratch and building the necessary infrastructure right into the structure. Tanya Townsend had that opportunity. The level of automation in most small hospitals is modest, but Saint Clare’s Hospital in the Village of Weston, Wisconsin, is a 107-bed digital hospital, thanks to some cooperation with Marshfield Clinic and parent organization Ministry Health Care.

The all-digital characterization generates a lot of industry interest, so thanks to Tanya for sharing the story with HIStalk’s readers.

Tell me about yourself and your job.

I am IT director for Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston, Wisconsin. I’ve been here three years now, so I was involved with project about a year before it opened. We are the first and only all-digital hospital in state of Wisconsin, a very remarkable and unique experience and I’ve been part of that since the beginning.

If I walked the halls of Saint Clare’s, what would I see that’s different form the average hospital?

First and foremost, it would be lack of paper chart and a lot of paper-pushing of the paper chart. So, for example, on our nursing units, based on our design for an all-digital hospital and knowing we didn’t have to worry about having a central communications station where that paper chart is generally stored. We started to rethink how we were going to provide care and do business with this new model in mind.

We actually decentralized nursing unit and put all of our nursing staff closer to patient. Now we have alcoves outside all of the patient rooms where documentation can occur, otherwise our document is completely mobile and wireless. Documentation can occur at the bedside as well.

We also implemented voice over IP wireless phones so all our communication can happen either via the computer or phones, tied into our nurse call system. Everything is very mobile and everything is real-time action. It’s a different model for communication and lot more of a decentralized approach, closer to the patient and then hopefully more family-friendly as well.

How do you define an all-digital hospital?

That’s a great question because I’m finding out, as we start sharing stories with other so-called digital organizations, we all have a little different definition of what exactly all-digital means. Going into our guiding principles, we certainly had a lot of different ideas of what we wanted the all-digital approach to be. One was that we didn’t want a paper chart and to worry about storing or maintaining a paper chart in a long-term format. That was the first piece – understanding how you’re going to get rid of any paper coming into your facility in the first place.

It’s also about optimizing information flows across the continuum and building in decision support and patient safety into all of the different systems as much as possible. That means implementing systems such as CPOE and clinical documentation with decision support at the bedside. Not neccessarily just about scanning paper on the back end.

One of the biggest problems CIOs have is change management. What opportunities did you have starting from scratch?

That was actually a unique opportunity. We were a brand new facility – we weren’t even a replacement facility, in a new market and a new area. Everybody coming into the facility was brand new. We all came in with open eyes, the sky was the limit, with a sense of camaraderie and collaboration from the very beginning, both business as well as IT, starting with the senior leadership level. The senior leaders built this vision, and upon hiring everybody into the hospital, everybody was part of that same vision. Very open minded, a lot less of “we’ve always done it that way.” We set expectations right at the beginning, even with the recruitment process.

Other pieces are building the culture of what we wanted to accomplish, so this idea of decision support, best practices, patient safety – it was at the core of every one of our processes that we built. It was also part of the initial process before the hospital opened – building our culture and process flows. We formed multidisciplinary teams for year before hospital opened, forming process flows. It could be as simple as registering a patient or as complex as medication reconciliation. We have 8,400 pages of process maps, all available digitally and used for both training purposes and process improvement purposes..

It really is an evolution. They’re not just one-time static documents. Any time we want to improve a process, we go back to the process maps and they get continuously updated.

How did you create the process maps?

We have a project manager. We use a project management methodology and we had a project manager to help facilitate those sessions. We had simulations and walkthroughs, and since then have a process improvement manager who will update the process flows and facilitate the sessions sessions. Our quality department is absolutely integral as well. They usually identify the areas we want to look at for process improvement activities. They’re available on our Intranet and we built them with Visio.

What systems do you use and why did you choose them?

Where we had the opportunity to really start fresh, we also knew from a cost savings opportunity as well as efficiency, and what we needed on this campus was a lot of collaboration, with both Ministry Healthcare and Marshfield Clinic present on this campus. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we took a look at what was available to us within both organizations that we thought we could fit in here. We looked at the tools that then did a gap analysis of where the holes were that we needed to identify solutions for.

We came up with two core systems. One of the was GE LastWord, now called Centricity Enterprise, and we’re in the process of converting to that. The other is the Marshfield Clinic application, which is now called Cattails MD. They officially got their CCHIT certification. 90% of all our documentation for our medical record is found in those two core tools.

The OR and ED are two very niche areas that typically require their own set of documentation. In the OR, we are partnered with Picis. They do our OR and anesthesia documentation for pre-op and intra-op. In the ED, we recently went live with MedHost for ED documentation. We also have the GE perinatal product, formerly known as QS, in family birth center. The other gaps was progress notes. How were we going to handle hospital progress notes? We had hunch that we were probably not going to get physicians to type their progress notes. It was one thing to ask them to do CPOE, but we weren’t sure we were going to get them to type progress notes.

Also, the different types of paper forms that are typically found in a medical record  chart that we don’t have solutions for – anatomical drawings, for example. There’s some forms that get approved through the medical records committee every month. And, documents coming in from outside facilities. We knew that patients would be coming here and transferring their care who might have some paper coming with them. We needed to find a way to acquire that into the record. We partnered into Marshfield Clinic. Since they do their own development, we could partner with them and decide on solutions for that.

With Marshfield Clinic, they developed a system called Digital Ink over Forms. That’s a tool that allows you to use a tablet style PC, pull up a form, and complete it with a stylus on the tablet. It digitizes your handwriting or whatever you did on the tablet. That’s our solution for progress notes as well as those different types of forms like the anatomical drawings. We have a scanning solution also developed by Marshfield Clinic for scanning those paper documents that will make their way into the facility.

How does the Marshfield Clinic’s homegrown EMR application work?

It’s actually been in development for the last 20 years or so. It was a system developed by physicians, for physicians. Marshfield Clinic is physician-run group. A lot of it was just a unique opportunity for us to say, “These are the gaps are on the hospital side, can we partner together to help with that collaboration across the continuum”, which is where you often have handoff issues, between ambulatory and hospital and back. That’s where a lot of handoff errors can occur. How can we partner together so that our systems are integrated across the platforms? So they’ve done a lot of very remarkable things, a very powerful tool.

We use it differently in the hospital than they do on the ambulatory side, but we share a problem list, medication list, and allergies. That was a key requirement for patient safety, that we have a medication list that would cross the continuum between ambulatory and hospital and back. The developed a very powerful medication reconciliation processes called Medication Manager. That’s also for patient prescription-writing as well.

Like I mentioned, the scanning solution is embedded right within their system. We have all our radiology and PACS images integrated with their system that allows dictation. And, one of the most unique functions is the Digital Ink over Forms that allows you, with your tablet and stylus, complete forms digitally or electronically. I’m probably missing a bunch of things it does. One of the reasons that Cattails is certified is that because it certainly meets all the standard criteria that commercial vendors already have as well.

What kind of user devices are in place?

Our core tool is the Fujitsu tablet, primarily because of that Digital Ink over Form documentation opportunity where we can use it with the stylus pen and complete the forms digitally. It’s mobile and wireless, of course. That’s our core clinical device. Each provider gets a tablet, whether a nurse or physician. The physician typically gets their own assigned to them and can take that from the clinic to the hospital and can roam freely throughout the campus using their personal tablet. On the nursing units, we have a pool of devices that they check out for the day and that’s their clinical tool they use throughout their shift.

How’s the battery life?

We have docking stations outside all those patient alcoves that I mentioned, so there’s lots of opportunity to sit and charge up. We also have the COWs that they can charge up on. If you’re operating wirelessly, continuously, it’s probably about four hours.

What kind of IT infrastructure was created for the hospital?

We’re completely Cisco, using the voice over IP technology as well of all of our wireless mobility. We’re using the tablets on wireleess, phones on wireless, wireless IV pump … lots of devices sitting on our wireless infrastructure. One of the concerns that I often get asked is about downtime and how to avoid any systems from going down, it both wireless as well as wired. We have multiple categories of redundancy, both on the wireless side as well as wired. Redundancy with different paths going to our data center so that if one of those ties is severed, the other would be up, entirely seamlessly. That’s another goal of the all-digital strategy, to make sure you have 99.9% uptime.

Is your data center on campus?

Actually, no. We have several data centers to house all of these different systems. They’re in Marshfield, Wisconsin, which is about 45 minutes away from Weston. We have a local data center as well, but our core main servers for both the Marshfield Clinic application and GE are in Marshfield.

So you’re running their systems and don’t have to run a separate instance?

Correct, which goes back to that we looked at the tool already available to us that made sense to us to adopt.

What about your wireless infrastructure?

We run 802.11g. We are running into the issues of the A-B-G compatibility with different devices that were available at the time. For example, our wireless phones operate only at the B level, so we have a little bit of issues with the access points being drained with too many devices on the access point, all at the same frequency at the same time. We’re upgrading our wireless infrastructure to separate out that traffic, which is again where it came in handy to have several areas of redundancy for an access point.

Do the B-devices slow everyone down to B-speed when they connect?

It drops the whole thing and we’re living that. Because the phones are almost always connecting to an access point, they limit the number of connections to each access point to try to streamline some of that traffic. The hospital opened and we learned that lesson.

What lessons learned would you have for IT departments moving into a new facility?

A lot of it was on the wireless side, to do the appropriate site assessments. That’s the trickiest thing, to put as much traffic on the network as you think you’re going to have to try to get those correct assessments. That was the tricky piece, especially trying to do that before the furniture was placed. Once you occupy the building, there’s all sort of findings with the wireless piece. So that’s a lesson learned – once everything is occupied, you probably want to do a few more assessments.

We had all kinds of interesting things happen. TVs, for example. We almost didn’t have TVs on our opening day because it was the same time as Hurricane Katrina and they were stuck out in the ocean somewhere. You never know what you’ll have to plan for.

In terms of disaster recovery, as much as you plan for avoiding an outage in the first place, you still have to be prepared because the inevitable will happen and did. Three months after opening, we had one of those unexpected WAN outages and we were essentially an island over here. The good news is that we had a good backup downtime electronic medical record system that we could access in that event, but not everybody was as familiar yet. It was one of those things that you have a procedure for, but you don’t necessarily walk through as often as you need to. That was another lesson learned.

How does the downtime EMR work?

We have a lot of our information stored in there. Even our niche systems like Picis in the OR and perinatal QS in the family birthing center and MedHost in the ED, all of those systems feed a summary document or quite a lot of patient information to the Marshfield Clinic Cattails system. That’s essentially our core repository. That information is then replicated, both in their data center as well as another offsite data center located in Madison, Wisconsin. That’s replicated near real time. So, we have the ability to access that through the Web in the event of an outage. Even if Cattails is down, we can still get to it.

Or, if the WAN is down, we have a satellite on the roof directly connected to this location in Madison so that we can pull up all of our patient information over the Web. It is just view-only at that point, so our downtime procedure is that you’re viewing information, but any new information that’s being captured, you go to a downtime process of paper. Imagine that. We do have paper. [laughs] That’s part of the downtime procedure process – identifying what are those core paper forms that you need to keep on standby.

IT in 107-bed hospitals is usually unsophisticated because of financial constraints. Can comparably sized hospitals accomplish what Saint Clare’s did?

That actually was part of the analysis. We did say, “Let’s try to leverage what we have available to us”, but we did a feasibility study and other vendors were looked at. For some of these systems, the vendor wasn’t too interested in us and we couldn’t touch the ballpark figures. That’s where it really made sense to leverage what was available to us. From a cost savings perspective, that was phenomenal.

What’s your IT staffing?

I have 21 FTEs on my payroll, but there’s a lot of sharing and collaboration with the parent organization. Saint Clare’s is the hospital proper, but it shares this campus with three other entities: MMG Weston, which is the family practice group also owned and operated by Ministry Healthcare, and I’m the IT director of that as well. Then we have the Marshfield Clinic Weston Center, which is over here, and then Ministry and Marshfield Clinic formed the joint venture on the campus called the Diagnostic and Treatment Center. That provides ancillary services for the entire campus – lab, radiology, cath lab, rehab, etc.

I’m over just MMG Weston and Saint Clare’s Hospital. At Marshfield Clinic, there isn’t a local director. They’re supported by the Clinic. Diagnostic and Treatment Center does have a local project coordinator, but we provide services to them. While I have 21 FTEs, resources are shared throughout those parent organizations because we are sharing systems, so I get services from them as well.

Can you prove the value of the technology in terms of cost or patient outcomes?

That was a little bit tricky for us. We didn’t personally have the before and after picture. In terms of looking at our guiding principles, which was to avoid a medical record filing room and storing charts, there was quite a bit of cost savings upfront. Same with PACS. We don’t have a radiology film room, everything is digital as well. A lot of avoidanace in the first place, but then we start to look at our outcomes and successes, that’s where we can try to do some benchmarking in comparison to our peers. We’ve been doing a lot of that. For the true use of CPOE, we’ve pretty much met compliance with all the mandates for best practice and quality outcomes.

For turnaround times on order sets, we’ve done some benchmarking. For delivering antibiotics stat, we’ve been able to turn that around in about five minutes. In a paper world at some of our peer facilities, it’s probably one and half to three hours.

The CPOE side was most controversial area. Lot of organizations are skeptical and taking a wait-and-see attitude. All of our order communications is as fast as the stat antibiotics. We’ve seen cost containment. We’ve been able to drive the doctors to use the formulary. They are 99.6% compliant.

The biggest result of all goes back to our guiding principles – optimizing the flow of information across the continuum. Having somewhat of an integrated system record, even if it is a best-of-breed vendor approach. Making sure none of our patients would be harmed due to lack of access to available information. By collaborating with Marshfield and sharing tools, have been able to avoid that.

Those are the types of things that we’re capitalizing on now and that process will continue. That certainly was a part of why Ministry and Marshfield looked at this campus as a unique opportunity and put quite a bit of effort into it, because it was an opportunity to look at how can we do this from the ground up and apply some of those lessons learned, good and bad, to rest of the organization as we continue to develop an electronic health record strategy.

My advice to others is to develop your strategy and stick to it. Get buy-in and understanding from senior leadership. The vision must be accepted at the senior leadership level. CPOE is not easy to implement. Make sure everybody is committed to vision, but adaptable. It’s a continuous evolution.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Hmm. Geez, I just don’t know. [laughs] Continued growth and development. Probably still in healthcare IT – this is definitely my passion. So, I can’t say for sure where exactly, but I’ll be doing something similar.

Your formal medical informatics training sets you apart from most IT leaders.

It’s absolutely been a plus. It’s been a weird development, I guess. I actually started out in health information management, more on the medical records documentation side. As I was finishing up and about to start in that career is really when the whole electronic medical record future started to pick up. I though I’d keep on going, continue to not only work, but also develop my career on the IT side because that’s where I could see myself was development of the electronic medical record and continued process improvement of our healthcare industry through the power of technology.

It wasn’t necessarily what I planned on in the very beginning, but absolutely where I want to be now. It has been extremely beneficial for me not only to have the technical training, but also have that healthcare background so I can communicate effectively and collaborate with my peers on the clinical side of the business, but also can effectively manage the IT technical component.

What do you do when you’re not working?

Who’s got time for that? [laughs] That’s an interesting question, probably another lesson learned. While it’s very fun to tell this story now, it’s been quite a journey to open an all-digital hospital, even if was from the ground up. It’s an incredible amount of effort and work. While it’s been extremely beneficial and a wonderful opportunity, it also was extremely busy. We found the eighth day of the week many times. It’s been such a great team-building experience. This will probably be one of those things that I’ll always look back as such a great experience and great friends for the rest of my life. Not a whole lot of time for everything else in life. But now that hospital is open and we’ve gotten into a little bit more of an operational mode, we’re going to get out and do some more fun things.

HIStalk Featured Sponsors


Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Great interview, as always. Remarkable progress, great insights, and “using what you have,” hopefully a subject of an upcoming blog post – you read my mind.

    Tanya – any chance of making those process flows available under a creative commons license? I believe letting others in the industry see how you accomplished what you have is key to moving the paper-less movement forward.

  2. I can attest to the fact that Tanya’s leadership made this Hospital a huge success, and opened on-time. I had worked for her on this project. I was very focused on technology systems, but soon ralized they had no value in improving operations if the users didn’t know they integrated. I recall Tanya having huge wall size maps of all the integration and being able to demonstrate all the process flows. She never accepted “this won’t work”, or “we’ve always done it this way”. The process maps and her determination of fully integrated solutions was crucial. She has been a mentor to me in truely “Getting out of IT” and into the eyes of the business.

    The process mapping may be too specific to individual business practices and flow. However I have created a sumamry bookmark for many of the Vendor Technologies that were pulled together at: http://www.iKeepBookmarks.com/MHCsystems

Text Ads


  1. Unfortunately, I can't disagree with anything you wrote. It is important that they get this right for so many reasons,…

  2. Going out on a limb here. Wouldn't Oracle's (apparent) interoperability strategy, have a better chance of success, than the VA's?…

  3. Dr Jayne is noticing one of the more egregious but trivial instance of bad behavior by allegedly non-profit organizations. I…

  4. To expand on this a bit. The Vista data are unique to Vista, there are 16(?) different VISN (grouped systems)…

Founding Sponsors


Platinum Sponsors











































Gold Sponsors