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HIStalk Interviews Carlos Nunez MD, Chief Medical Officer, CareFusion

April 18, 2011 Interviews 1 Comment

4-18-2011 6-11-36 PM

Carlos Nunez MD is chief medical officer of CareFusion of San Diego, CA.

What led you take the CMO position at CareFusion?

I was with Picis for almost 11 years. My title there was chief physician executive, which was essentially the CMO of Picis.

My background in medical technology and information technology goes back a little over 20 years, all the way to the time when I was still practicing medicine and even into my training as an anesthesiologist and as an intensivist. I guess being at Picis automatically type-cast me as being an informatics person, but my interest and my background really is more than just healthcare IT, but healthcare technology, of which I think IT is a very important part.

When you look at what’s happening in healthcare right now — I probably don’t have to tell you — healthcare is notorious for embracing fads. More than ten years ago, when the IOM came out with the report, To Err is Human, everybody was all about safety. When Leapfrog said CPOE was necessary, everyone was all about CPOE. A year or two ago, it was RHIOs. Six months ago it, was HIEs and Meaningful Use. Now healthcare reform has got everybody all in an uproar about ACOs.

When you see what’s happening in healthcare beyond the fads, and you look at the themes that have persisted for the last 12 years or so, it’s this focus on quality, safety, cost, and efficiency. Regardless of whether you’re talking about an ACO or an HIE or Meaningful Use, those are the themes that continue to rear their heads in everything that either is a fad or a discussion or the theme of the moment.

I think technology is perfectly positioned to help, specifically with American healthcare, but global healthcare deals with these challenges and attacks these themes. Looking at American healthcare in the context of healthcare reform right now, the challenges are the same. It’s decreasing levels of reimbursement and revenue to hospitals and the individual providers. Healthcare reform is trying to squeeze out $400 to $500 billion in savings from Medicare over the next ten years. The aging population, the decreasing resources — whether you’re talking about the nursing shortage or the shortage of primary care physicians to the consolidation of hospitals and practices — technology is perfectly positioned to help with a lot of these problems and changes.

When I looked at the opportunity at CareFusion, I found a company that I felt was perfectly positioned to address these challenges with a very, very unique set of solutions. What I did in my former company was focused on pure IT. It was software and solutions. But using that as an example, our software worked best when it was connected to an anesthesia machine; when it was communicating to a physiologic monitor; when it was getting information from a balloon pump or an infusion pump or a pharmacy system. There was more than just a pure healthcare IT play going on.

There was what I like to call this hidden kingdom of healthcare IT. That’s the medical technology. Information technology only works when it’s full of information, when it’s full of data. Most of that data comes from the patient. In the high-acuity areas of the hospital or in the areas of the hospital where patients are the most sick or most vulnerable, more often than not, that data is coming from a device. It could be coming from an infusion pump or a PCA pump. It could be from the pharmacy and the dispensing cabinet. It could be from the ICU, where the sickest patients are connected to all sorts of medical technology. 

When I looked at this opportunity, I saw a company that had products and services aligned with those same themes and those same challenges that healthcare faces. Medication safety and medication management, looking at infection prevention from the standpoint of central line or respiratory ventilator-associated pneumonia, supply chain management, portfolio IT assets, and most recently, the announcement that CareFusion is looking at ways to make hospitals a little more eco-friendly in dealing with the problems of hazardous waste disposal. 

Looking at their technology portfolio and their IT portfolio, I saw an opportunity to work for a company perfectly positioned to make a difference in those themes and in those areas where healthcare needs help.

Some would argue that healthcare IT is still enamored with IT basics, like having someone enter data and someone else pull it back out on the other end. On the other hand, companies like CareFusion were engineering-driven and not very good at developing software, where they were happy just to get relays to click and solenoids to move. Do you see those worlds coming together to help take care of patients?

I do. Before I took this position I was reviewing something that most of your readers are probably very familiar with, the KLAS rankings of the different IT solutions in the hospital space. My former employer had various solutions that were ranked in KLAS, so we watched these things very carefully. At the end of the year, KLAS puts out their Best in KLAS overall IT vendor rankings based on multiple products that KLAS ranks.

Probably no surprise, Epic was ranked Number One as Best in KLAS. Do you know who was Number Two? It was CareFusion, behind Epic by only two-tenths of a point. Number Three was more than four points away from CareFusion. I’m looking at this saying, here is a company that everybody thinks of as Pyxis machines and Alaris pumps who’s ranked neck and neck with the IT vendor that has taken the IT world by storm over the last few years. There must be a reason why.

As I learned more about what CareFusion does, I uncovered the reason. It is exactly what you alluded to with your question. The Holy Grail of what CareFusion is trying to accomplish is exactly what you say. When someone is adopting an information technology solution at the point of care, where someone is documenting care or making note of a lab result or entering something about a patient, how is that going to affect a drawer that opens or pump that’s infusing a medication or a fluid into a patient or a ventilator or some of the other things that CareFusion does? 

Here’s a scenario. Imagine you have a person who is on an anticoagulant and they’re getting PTT and INR studies done regularly. There’s an order to administer another dose of heparin or Coumadin. The nurse is going to follow the order. The lab results come back and their INR is therapeutic or maybe it’s even higher than what you would like. The nurse goes through the dispensing cabinet. They haven’t had a chance to go to look at the patient’s lab results. The dispensing cabinet says, “By the way, you’re about to take out that drug for a Mr. Jones, but I’ve just checked and the lab is saying that Mr. Jones’ INR actually is a little higher than you’d like it do be. Maybe you want to hold off on that dose. Call the physician.” That’s how that interplay needs to happen, and it already does. 

That’s what was surprising to me as I investigated what CareFusion was already about. The part of CareFusion that does a lot of their IT and analytics and surveillance was a company called MedMined that they acquired a few years ago. It was traditionally a company that did antibiotics infection surveillance in trying to improve antibiotic stewardship. It is now expanded throughout CareFusion’s different vertical businesses to provide notifications at the point of dispensing drugs or at the point of administration, regarding things beyond just antibiotic and infection surveillance, but looking at lab results, electrolytes, anything that could affect why or why not you’d want to dispense a drug. That’s just one example, but it’s a great example of that convergence between IT and devices. 

I spoke earlier about data coming from devices to the IT system. There’s an example of data living in an IT system like a pharmacy system or a lab system that’s now affecting the way someone interacts with the device that you wouldn’t traditionally consider part of IT. But think about it. I know you’re a fan of the Apple iPad, as am I. As a matter of fact, in your Monday Morning Update for just this past Monday, you had a little one-liner that AirStrip Technologies was shown in the very first iPad 2 TV commercial. The iPad is a device, the magical device that Steve Jobs has sold us all on. Incidentally, there are still lines every morning outside the Apple store in San Diego to get one, which is incredible to me. The magic of the iPad is it’s a beautiful device and the apps, the IT, and the hardware, together working in an ecosystem that’s very disruptive. 

Using the iPad example, look at how the iPad has just taken the medical world by storm. Doctors can’t stop showing up to work without their iPads. It’s caused CIOs even outside of healthcare, in businesses like here at Carefusion … our CIO’s got to figure out, “How do I integrate these iPads and these iPhones into our workflow? We’re a Windows-Exchange shop.”

It’s the same sort of revolution that I think it needs to take place. People need to recognize that all technology, not just pure information technology or software, is part of the information infrastructure of a hospital and a health system. It is that interplay between devices and information systems that will define how things become more efficient and adoption increases.

You’re right, we get really excited when we’re able to do very simple things. The adoption of technology and information technology in healthcare is behind many of industries. When you find the appropriate way to integrate information, data, actionable knowledge at the point of care, wherever that happens to be — whether it’s on the screen of a device or on the screen of a workstation — so that it’s less disruptive and more integrated into the very busy workflow of a nurse or a physician, then you’re going to see the adoption increase, the efficiency increase. Things like safety and quality should follow.

When people think of advances in banking technology, they don’t think of what goes on behind closed doors, they think of ATMs and online banking, the sharp end of the stick. In healthcare, nurses are the most vested at having tools, but nobody’s really doing much for them even though they provide most of the care.

Absolutely, yes. I’ll give you another example, because I had this conversation with someone here at CareFusion yesterday. It was the philosophical argument — where does certain information belong? Does it belong in the traditional IT system, or does it belong within a medical device or on a screen that’s part of a medical device? 

I said I don’t think that you can just make blanket statements like that. I think the information, the actionable knowledge that’s going to make a difference at the point of care — like you said, especially for the nurses who really feel the brunt of a lot of this — is wherever it best fits within the workflow.

I know we were talking about nurses, but I’m going to use a non-nursing example because this is off the top of my head. It’s what we talked about yesterday — the respiratory therapist. My former employer had an ICU information system, which is great. I’m an intensivist, loved it. Part of the feature set was that you could create customized flowsheets and a respiratory therapist could look at information on that customized flowsheet.

But more often than not, a respiratory therapist in the ICU walks right up to the ventilator. They’re used to having a clipboard sitting on top of the ventilator where they’ve got information about that patient and then a screen on the ventilator. They’re not going to want to change their workflow and have to go look into a screen.

Imagine if on that ventilator screen, you can see the blood gas results that you’re most interested in, or any other information that makes a difference. Maybe it does need to be on the information system screen. Maybe it needs to be on the ventilator. For me, it should just be integrated into the workflow that makes sense because the biggest problem is adoption — physician adoption, clinician adoption.

Getting people to adopt technology or IT or otherwise is difficult when you ask them to do more stuff. When it’s integrated into their workflow, then it becomes a pleasure to use this stuff.

I assume that the fact that CareFusion hired you is an indication that they’re interested in backing away from that engineering label and getting more into mainstream IT. How do you see that changing what goes on at CareFusion, especially when it comes to healthcare reform?

I think what CareFusion hiring me signals is that they want to take a balanced approach. Not so much that they want to try and become identified as an IT company versus an engineering company. I think they want to take a balanced approach that reflects some of the things that I have been saying — that there is medical technology and information technology working together can have a tremendous impact on quality, safety, cost and efficiency.

That’s the message that they’re trying to send, not just by hiring me, but by creating the portfolio of products and solutions that they have created over the last few years since they spun off from Cardinal. The way they go to market with these strategies and the integration that they are building between their different vertical platforms to show that there is this place where devices and software can play together and play together nicely, creating real benefits for patients and for providers and for hospitals.

I alluded to a couple of things about healthcare reform earlier. We talked about the fact that this is a plan that’s supposed to cost a trillion dollars. That’s what we were initially told — everyone knows that most government programs go over their initial cost estimates. But if we stick to that figure, a trillion bucks, roughly half of that is supposed to be realized through savings in Medicare and other CMS expenditures, Medicaid, etc. 

The ACO rules and regulations were just published. It’s like a fad. We’ve seen this before. You look at the HHS estimates for the adoptions of ACOs, and they’re saying that in their best estimate, somewhere between 1.5 to 4 million lives will be covered within the ACO model by 2014 with savings of roughly $500 million — with an M — dollars.

So they’re saying, “We’re hoping four years into the ten-year plan for healthcare reform we’re going to have maybe four million people in the ACO model.” That’s not even 10% of the roughly 44 to 45 million Medicare beneficiaries that are covered today. Savings of $500 million? That’s not even a drop in the bucket when you’re looking at half a trillion dollars in Medicare savings. 

It makes me wonder why we do this to ourselves in healthcare. Why we elevate these fads and get crazy over them without looking deeply into the facts and say, “Gosh, yeah, this is an interesting thing. Maybe it will end up leading to real savings and real changes in the way we deal with healthcare.” But in the end, it always goes back to the same things. It’s quality, safety, cost, and efficiency.

For me, healthcare reform represents one really important thing. Whether you agree with the way it was enacted, whether you agree with the provisions, whether you think the costs are right, or ACOs are great — and I’m not saying I have an opinion one way or the other — I’m just curious as to way everyone’s so crazy about an ACO model that we’re not yet sure will create significant savings.

What healthcare reform did is announce to the world in a very public way that the United States is finally acknowledging we can no longer afford the system that we have on the cost curve and trajectory that we’ve got. Not only does it endanger CMS and HHS, it endangers the entire federal budget. It endangers the economy of the United States as a country. It’s a very real problem and it’s a big, big part of the discussion that we now see around the Republicans’ new budget proposal trying to cut over five trillion dollars from the federal budget over ten years. This is a big deal. It could bankrupt our government and really make a huge impact on the American way of life, so we have to do something about this. 

Technology is the way that other industries have found the means to become efficient and look at ways to improve quality and safety while becoming efficient and spending less on the things that don’t matter — redundancy and paperwork and overhead and the things that don’t matter. There’s a way that we can refocus healthcare on taking care of patients. I think technology plays a huge part in that.

The last thing I’ll say on my little political diatribe. You know, we don’t have a healthcare system in the United States — we have a disease intervention system. Most Americans wait until something is broken or bleeding or falling off before they show up in the ED and get very expensive care for a problem they should have taken care of years or months before.

I think all of those themes that continue to merge about quality, safety, cost, and efficiency lead us to a remaking of this system in a way that keeps us healthier and tries to avoid getting to the point of disease intervention until it becomes more inevitable. And again, technology — and maybe not even in the inpatient setting — can play a huge role in all of that.

I think that’s what’s important about the ACO model or about healthcare reform or about Meaningful Use. It’s not the few million dollars in incentive payments here or there, or whether or not it’s going to be a million or four million lives covered in an ACO model. It’s the fact that we need to do something to move our healthcare system towards providing healthcare and using technology to become more efficient, to take better care of patients while not going broke in the process.

From my perspective — obviously I’ve got a very inpatient focus perspective as an anesthesiologist and intensivist — a company like CareFusion, from within their perspective mostly focused in the areas of the hospital where things like supply chain management and medication safety and infection prevention — it’s a really, really interesting place to be with all the stuff that’s swirling around.

If you looked out five to ten years, what should technology vendors in general and CareFusion in particular be working on to start to move the needle on patient outcomes and costs?

Five to ten years? Wow, I’m going say a word that is very overused in our circles, but I’m going to try and define what I mean by that. I think it’s a level of interoperability that makes sense.

It’s not just creating interfaces between different systems because they don’t exist now, and maybe we need to have everything tied together. It’s creating an interoperability between medical technology and information technology that provides actionable information at the point of care so that the providers who are being asked to do more with less can make the right decisions, can keep their patients safe, can deliver the highest quality care in a way that is most efficient and most cost effective.

I gave the example of the respiratory therapist or the nurse who’s trying to dispense a medication and it’s contraindicated because of a lab result. The examples go on and on from there, and maybe some of them are very, very clinical and safety-focused. Maybe some examples are more focused on collecting data for retrospective analysis. A patient who’s admitted for a non-infectious disease-related diagnosis and the Pyxis machine notes that they had a central line kit removed, and then three days later, the Alaris pump sends a signal that they’re getting an infusion of antibiotics and there’s no reason why they should based on their diagnosis. Do we now start to see markers for infection? Do they have a central line infection? Can the infectious disease nurse be prompted to go and check on that patient to see what’s going on?

The examples go on and on how you can start to tie devices and information technology to create an ecosystem that is much more efficient than what we have today. It’s not just creating interfaces using HL7 because we think it would be great to connect this system with that one. It’s really creating a web of connected devices and connected systems that allows us to be very efficient in delivering the safest, highest quality care that we can, and saving money in the process.

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Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Indeed I agree with Carlos Nunez MD, Chief Medical Officer, CareFusion.The healthcare systems must migrate from paper-based records to electronic format. Paper-based health records has resulted in lack of continuity of patients care across healthcare setting in developing countries especially Ghana. It is important the corporate bodies like CareFusion also look at the developing country to assist in using Health IT to render services in our healthcare settings.

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