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HIStalk Interviews Ferdinand Velasco MD, Chief Medical Information Officer, Texas Health Resources

July 6, 2009 Interviews 10 Comments


What are the most important projects you are working on at Texas Health Resources?

The project is our EHR deployment. We’re an Epic customer. We’re in the middle of deploying the EHR. We’re live now with probably close to three-quarters of our beds. We’re a 14-hospital health system.

We’re very busy with the implementation, but we’ve been live at our earliest hospitals for some time. The focus there is more on optimization, really leveraging the EHR for things like patient safety, quality, and core measures reporting.

With some of our newer sites and sites where we’ve yet to go live, it’s still obviously very much in the early implementation focus — getting physicians on board, that kind of stuff. We’ve had the whole spectrum of the maturity of the implementation even within our health system.

You’ve done a lot of work with first-generation systems. Do you find it easier to work with something like Epic or are the challenges similar?

There are similar challenges. Certainly when I worked at New York Presbyterian we were rolling out Eclipsys. Back then, it was definitely very first generation. The systems have matured, so we don’t run into the same kinds of technical obstacles than we did with those first-generation systems.

Largely, what we run into now is more of the cultural adoption issues, overcoming physician skepticism with respect to health information technology and the workflow issues. I think now what’s different compared to the 90s is that there’s a higher expectation for what these things can do. It’s not enough to just be able to deploy systems and get the physicians on board using it. There are expectations for medication reconciliation and core measures that really didn’t exist in the early days of EHR systems. The bar has been raised higher.

As you know from the meaningful use discussion, the bar will continue to be raised, so there are expectations for barcode medication verification and the whole closed loop process and real-time clinical surveillance. Those are the kinds of things we’re keeping an eye on because we don’t have that yet, but we are certainly gearing up to have those things implemented in time for the expectation for meaningful use.

What are the endpoints needed to be to justify the expense and the effort?

They are always moving. [laughs]. Initially, just getting it installed and getting the docs to use it, but now there’s the expectation that it has to meet the Joint Commission requirements and help us with pay-for-performance. The endpoint now is satisfying meaningful use. The bar keeps going up. We’re just trying to stay ahead and chug away. It’s all of those things.

Where we are today is still implementing the system safely and not killing patients, but we want to go beyond that and realize benefits in terms of reduction of ADEs and improvement in operational efficiency. Our challenge is managing the expectation because that doesn’t happen Day 1. It takes time, there’s a learning curve.

Part of our problem is our own success. The more successful we are, the higher the expectation. That’s a bit of a challenge.

You mentioned the tentative definition of meaningful use. What are your thoughts on what HHS has put together?

From our perspective as an organization that has been on this journey for some time, what I like about the meaningful use is that it gives us a framework. It helps us prioritize those things that we may not have yet planned for or that we don’t have in our timeline. Things like automated surveillance, closed loop medication management including the barcode piece, and medical device integration. That helps us argue for funding those initiatives and putting the plans into place so we can get that implemented on top of our existing implementation. That’s helpful.

It’s helpful for us to use that as a yet another lever with our physicians who are not yet live with the system so that we can say, “Here’s yet another message that this is a mandate and we need to be compliant with this stuff.”

On the ambulatory side, the THR, like many health systems, is providing and making available ambulatory EHR solutions, the Epic solution, as a subsidized offering. Many of our physician practices are too small to be able to buy Epic, so we are providing Epic as a sort of ASP model. This is another sell, if you will, for that offering, this moving meaningful use intended and ultimately the stick that’s the penalty for not having an EHR system by after 2015. That’s how we’re looking at it.

Are they helping you justify what you wanted to do anyway or are they taking you in direction you didn’t want to go?

I think there’s a lot of alignment there. We were very fortunate to get on board with investing in HIT early on and defining what our vision should be. There’s a lot of alignment with what came out in that initial draft and the matrix. We’re pretty pleased — I am, anyway — with that initial draft.

Obviously it’s very aggressive and ambitious so all the organizations have come out cautioning about being so aggressive. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out over the course of the next couple of weeks before the next meeting of the HIT Policy Committee. We’re keeping an eye on that, but from our perspective, because we didn’t wait until something like this came out of the Fed, we feel pretty well positioned and, if anything, it helps clarify our future direction.

You’ve worked a lot with CPOE. AMDIS is saying it’s too much to bite off early on in the meaningful use criteria. Where do you think CPOE fits in the overall strategy?

I think it has an important role. A lot of the important benefits of deploying HIT and, more specifically, EHR is dependent on physician participation. A lot of that is based on clinical decision support. The earlier people tackle CPOE, the better positioned they’ll be to realize those benefits.

I can understand AMDIS and others pushing for it to be not quite 2011. Their point of view is that health systems that haven’t yet selected a system, haven’t yet budgeted for it — there’s no way they’re going to be able to be ready for CPOE in 2011. I think that’s where they’re coming from. I think it sends the wrong message to interpret that to mean that you can delay CPOE.

We’re in a market area where our major competitor is deploying an EHR system but not pushing CPOE. They’re deploying basically all the functionality of Eclipsys and then they’re going to go back and do CPOE, which was what David [Muntz] was going to do if he’d stayed here. That was basically the philosophy that we had here, so we had a change in leadership. I think there’s some benefit to that. You can work on the physicians and soften them up while you’re deploying the nursing components and the pharmacy and all that, but you’re not really going to get a lot of bang if you hold off on the physician engagement piece.

Ultimately you’re going to have to do it anyway. That’s how they’re approaching it at Baylor, that’s how we opted not to do it, and if CPOE stays in 2011, they’re going to have to rethink their strategy.

Just before our implementation, I asked our docs how long they thought it would take before we got to universal CPOE, The results fell into a similar distribution as from the recent CHIME survey, with about two-thirds predicting it would take three or more years. The reality is that at our first two hospitals, it took one year, At our third and fourth, 6-9 months. And at the last three, we are achieving universal CPOE within one week of our big bang implementations.

Folks are being paralyzed by a handful of failed implementations when there are scores of successful implementations at community hospitals throughout the country. Healthcare needs to get beyond this fear factor and move forward with meaningful use. Yes, this is challenging, but we can’t afford to sit still.

What are the secrets of implementing CPOE?

Physician leadership. Getting some really influential thought leaders behind the initiative, buying into it, participating in the design process, being early adopters. These are the things we did and I think we’ve been very successful.

All seven of our hospitals that are live have essentially universally adoption of CPOE, including our most recent three hospitals, which basically went mandatory CPOE on their own accord. We didn’t as an IT department or hospital administration really push it. It was the physicians themselves saying dual workflow isn’t going to work, it’s unsafe, let’s get on board early. We basically had that Day 1 with these go-lives.

I couldn’t be more pleased. I’m really quite excited about where we are with getting the physicians on board. Obviously you have to have a good system and a good build, but if you don’t have the physician leadership, all of that is really secondary.

You’ve worked with a lot of technologies such as Microsoft Surface. What of those technologies have the most promise to improve patient outcomes?

The iPhone certainly seems to be the most promising in terms of the handheld platform. It seems to be the best form factor. I’ve done some work with the tablet PC and it’s got some promise, but I really think the iPhone may be the next killer technology for healthcare.

Are you seeing pressure to have applications reconfigured to be optimally used with the iPhone?

Yes. We’re applying that pressure. We’re putting pressure on Epic to do that. Meditech has a nice iPhone client. A few others may have some as well or in development. A lot of physicians have iPhones. There are a number of medical apps for the iPhone. It’s a compelling device for use at the bedside or at the point of care. It’s a ubiquitous kind of thing — you can use it anywhere. I’m very excited about it.

Are you building anything for the iPhone or looking at other applications that physicians want for it?

We have a physician portal that’s Web-based. It’s the access point for Epic and other clinical applications and other hospital-based resources. We definitely are planning to build an iPhone-compatible portal.

We have a couple of applications that we have deployed that are iPhone-based. For instance, our fetal monitoring system. We have several physicians using the iPhone client that allows you to see that wherever you are. We obviously have Epocrates and an assortment of electronic resource that are available through the iPhone.

We have an internal development shop and we’ve done some add-on work on top of Epic, some calculators and other value-add applications that are launched from within the Hyperspace platform. We’re looking to see if we can port some of those applications to the handheld for the iPhone. That’s all future stuff. It’s not live yet.

Let’s say a well-funded startup came to you and said, “We’ve got money, backers, and technology. We’re ready to build applications that the healthcare market needs. What should we build?” What would you tell them?

Since it’s very top of line for me and we’re struggling with it, core measures and the submission of quality data. That’s the 2013 criteria right now for meaningful use. That would probably be something that would be an attractive offering. More generally, just BI tools, analytical tools, something to enhance the value of EHR systems.

Unfortunately, most of the EHR vendors fall short in terms of being able to provide BI tools. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the Oracles and IBMs. There’s a little bit of a gap between the analytical capability of the software vendors on the one end and the ability of the traditional BI technology vendors that could be filled with a niche player or the EHR and BI vendors coming together in the middle.

So you don’t think Amalga is that product?

I don’t known enough about Amalga. Although we’re a strategic partner with Microsoft, we haven’t had conversations with them about Amalga. I’m somewhat familiar with them because I came from New York Presby, but they are really eclectic as far as all the different systems they have in place. They’ve got the Presby hospital, the old New York Hospital, they’ve got faculty practice plans at each of the medical colleges, so definitely you need an Amalga just to put all that together.

We’re moving more toward the integrated approach, so I don’t know that we really need Amalga. That would almost duplicate what we already have with our data warehouse. But it may be that Amalga has some front-end tools that can help us. To be honest, I haven’t evaluated it enough to be knowledgeable, but from what I’ve heard from our experts on the subject, they would say that Amalga is more hype than reality.

I assume you’re doing a lot with how to manage and use all that data you are now collecting by having physicians directly involved.

That’s a supply-demand kind of thing right now. We have a lot of physicians live with the system and using it. Their appetite and thirst for the data is growing. Our ability to keep up with that is going to be a challenge, particularly since we’re still in implementation mode.

The challenge for us now is prioritization — what do we focus on and where do we place our efforts in delivering this kind of analytical capability. It’s on the core measures and those quality measures that the organization has selected as our key initiatives, things like blood management, glycemic management, VTE prevention, and pressure ulcer prevention.

Our challenge is to keep focused on those things and not get too distracted by people that want information just because they’re curious or they have a localized initiative. We want to focus on those things that have broad value across the entire enterprise.

Now that the federal government is driving much of the IT agenda in healthcare, are physicians and patients in the field being asked for enough input?

I would like to think so. Dr. Blumenthal is a practicing physician. Several physicians on the two steering committees, the advisory committees, are physicians. Certainly there is an openness and transparency to the process so far. It has given physicians an opportunity to participate and comment on the process. I feel pretty comfortable about it.

I come from the perspective of a health organization that is very much in the midst of this. I think there may be challenges with physician practices that haven’t invested in IT and are pretty far behind. They might question whether their voice is being heard. I don’t know that answer to that question, but those physicians in our market area are interested in what we can offer to help them. We’re available to help.

Anything else?

No, we’ve covered quite a bit. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you about what we’re doing and how we’re working to make the most out of health IT. It’s a very exciting time to be in it. Thank you for your Web site, your blog. It’s been a great resource for all of us. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.

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Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. I have the pleasure of working with Dr. Velasco and he is truly a visionary. It is as much about his excitement and dedication to improvement as anything else. THR is lucky to have him, along with many of the other physician leaders and the rest of the great people on our team.

  2. I would like to know how Texas Health Resources handled their legacy paper charts? Were they scanned and imported into EPIC or left in paper format? I’d like to get an idea how large hospitals are dealing with incoming paper charts and the backlog of records

  3. WRONG! Velascao is the EXCEPTION. Doctors are usually the major problems in healthcare and health care IT !!!

  4. Thank you for a good and balanced article. Nice to see something positive on the I.T front. There are many hospital groups out there with similar experiences, where the Doctors do get excited with the prospects and the ways they can use data. It’s a data driven and scientific profession after all.

    There really are many positive stories our there these days and they really are not that hard to find. I can echo Ferdinand’s experience at least another three large implementations. Doctors on board and motivated to get through the initial shock. Nurses on board and after go-live having the tools to improve quality and efficiency. Other than the places I have been involved with, I know dozens of other installs with some exciting things happening.

  5. Many thanks to the folks who have left comments regarding my conversation with Mr. HISTalk.

    In reviewing my comments, I realized that I neglected to express my appreciation for the dedicated men and women at our hospitals and on our team that have made our EHR initiative a success at Texas Health. It is an honor and privilege to be able to work with them.

    Kevin, regarding paper records, we have been scanning these for years prior to our EHR implementation and have continued to digitize the few remaining physical documents (external records, consent forms) that still make it to the chart. We use a third party document management system, StreamlineHealth, which is interfaced with Epic. Our users are able to view the scanned documents from links within the Epic system.

    This has proven to be a useful bridge to transition our clinicians from a paper medical record to an electronic paradigm. Our HIM directors are very confident in the technology and do not store the original paper documents long term.

  6. How has the go-live impacted nurse staffing and your patient care delivery model? These go-lives require so many RN super-users to ensure some transition not only from physician perspective but from bed-side care. Experinence has shown that strategic nurse staffing contingencies are required. How was this been addressed?

  7. This is great interview and I am not surprised! I had opportunity to work with Dr. Velasco and I was always amazed with his ideas and his knowledge of cutting edge technology solutions! Each meeting with Dr. Velasco turns into an educational session. Great leader with a right vision. Good luck Dr. V and THR!

  8. My comments about the EHR implementation at Baylor were not as exact as I had intended. The reference to “benefits to that” referred to their implementation strategy of deploying EHR first and CPOE later. By focusing initially on the installation of a clinical nursing documentation system and medication management system, this approach ensures that a sound foundation and technology infrastructure are in place prior to tackling CPOE.

    What the HIT Policy Committee has done, by including CPOE so early (2011) in the draft meaningful use matrix, is apply pressure to accelerate the implementation of CPOE.

    I apologize if this caused any misunderstanding and felt it important to clarify. I have the highest regard for the IT staff at Baylor and for all health systems deploying this important technology.

  9. Blumenthal as a “practicing physician”? I don’t think so. My original letter-to-the-editor explaining the scoop on Blumenthal went to Histalk purgatory somewhere…


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