Trenor Williams, MD is is CEO and co-founder of Clinovations of Washington, DC.
Give me some background about yourself and the company.
I’m a family practice physician. I’ve been in healthcare for about the last 20 years and in healthcare consulting for the last 11, working with large IDNs and government organizations both in the US and abroad. I left a clinical practice that I loved at a ski resort in California because I truly believe that clinicians — and specifically physicians — need to have a role and be a part of the solution rather than just bystanders along the way.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with large management consulting firms like Healthlink IBM and Deloitte. Five years ago, with Anita Samarth, I started Clinovations as a collaborative, really a networking group of clinical leaders, CMIOs, CMOs, and operational leaders in the DC and Baltimore area. It was an opportunity for us to share our thoughts, solutions, and struggles, sometimes, with a bunch of like-minded individuals.
In 2008, Anita and I started Clinovations as a clinically-focused advisory consulting firm, working with IDNs, federal organizations, pharmaceutical companies, payer organizations, and technology vendors. I really believe that we’re at the intersection of healthcare and healthcare delivery. We act as integrators, translators, and guides between those multiple different groups.
Companies often have a clinical person or two on staff, but I don’t know of many large ones that are all physicians and clinicians. What do you do differently than you did for the firms you left?
When Anita and I started it, it was just the two of us. We’ve been able to grow the company to 100 employees and consultants, and 60 percent of those people are clinicians – physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and other clinicians. We’re fortunate that half of our team live here in the DC region, but we’re delivering work around the US.
Because of our clinical focus and our understanding of care delivery, clinical workflow, and the impact of technology, we believe that that practical on-the-ground experience is unbelievably valuable for our partner clients who are going through some of the most diverse and challenging experiences from a healthcare delivery standpoint. We have healthcare executives, CMIOs, CIOs, practicing physicians, hospitalists, emergency medicine doctors, nurse executives, management consultants, and trained researchers all together. I truly believe that that combination of skills helps us focus on the strategic for our clients, but then roll up our sleeves and provide on-the-ground tactical support to execute the approaches that we help them develop.
There’s mixed opinion on whether software vendors adequately use clinicians in roles where they can be valuable. Are they as good at using their clinicians as Clinovations?
I think that’s a “depends” answer. Many of the software vendors have a really nice focus with clinicians. I see them used in three ways.
One is from a technical development standpoint — software development. Another is sales, so demo docs and demo nurses. The third is management consulting and helping with clinical engagement and delivery. The vendors that use physicians specifically and nurses in those positions do well.
My experience has been that they don’t have the bandwidth to do it for all of the clients that they would like to. We’ve been able have some really nice relationships with vendors and have been able to partner with them to provide some of that clinical leadership.
Most of the people running vendor companies came from the sales side of the organization instead of having a technical or clinical background. Clinicians may take a vendor role not knowing that in some companies, the focus is going to be on selling and implementing product rather than worrying about the clinical considerations after it’s live.
I couldn’t agree more. Where clinicians want to make an impact is on the care delivery side. Whether you’re at a vendor, a consulting firm, an IDN, or in a practice, it really is about how you effectively use that technology, and ideally, how we deliver better care at an individual level and for populations of patients. For us and our vendor partners, that’s our goal — how can we help organizations design a system and design processes to deliver better care at the end of the day?
You worked on a medication clinical decision support book that HIMSS published. What were some of the findings that came out of that?
There are several. Jerry Osheroff did a great job of organizing a large number of individuals to help support the most recent book a few years ago.
One is helping to make sure that organizations have governance. I don’t mean an organizational structure, but truly a way to prioritize their decision making and then formally and structurally think about how they’re going to get value from the decision support that they use. I don’t think that that is common. It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking to an alert or a reminder as the solution in electronic health records for a specific disease or a group of patients.
Jerry and the other authors, I believe, would agree that if you start with which questions you’re trying to answer and problems you’re trying to solve, prioritize your decision support and whether that links to evidence — whether it’s patient education or provider education materials — and then as a last resort use an alert or reminder to help a provider at the point of care, you can develop a comprehensive solution to treat that individual patient better and that type of patient better as well.
Do you think that consideration of the evidence and attention to the content usually happens after go-live because nobody wants to hold up the go-live to build it upfront?
I think that there is some focus prior to go live. One of the things that we’ve been able to do is focus a lot on evidence-based content development – specifically, order sets or Interdisciplinary Plans of Care (IPOCs) — and develop those ahead of time.
I think in some respects, clinical content development is like a Trojan horse for a clinical engagement. One of our most recent clients had over 1,000 clinicians involved from seven different hospitals to develop over 350 evidence-based order sets in a 10-month period. That’s unusual, but I also that that focus leads to developing the foundation for them to move forward. To have gotten that many clinicians — physicians, nurses, pharmacists, therapists — involved in a process also was a great way to get them engaged in the project.
I would think that a lot of your future stream of work will come from that optimization, when the bolus of hospitals that have gone live in the past two years or that will go live in the next two years will need to use that platform to get the expected benefits, meaning they’ll need to move to practices that are more evidence based.
Three things there that you said. One is optimize. I think you’re exactly right, especially with the acceleration of implementations around the country. The expectation, and from the vendors as well, is that if you just get it in, you can optimize later. We think that organizations have to have a structured plan around that. It’s not just going to happen on its own. But you’re right — the opportunities to help organizations optimize the technology, their workflow, and the reporting will be unbelievably important.
The other thing that you said was value — getting value from these implementations. We expect and are seeing boards, chief executives, and chief financial officers asking about the return on investment from these implementations. When I say return on investment, I mean clinical, financial, and operational return on investment. That work is going to have to happen after the implementation, even if you build the foundation from the beginning.
The third really is around what do you do with the data, thinking about analytics. There are plenty of folks that talk about big data, but for us it’s how organizations effectively utilize the data, review it, analyze it, and then help change the way that they deliver care dynamically.
I think all three of those things are going to be really important as we move forward.
Organizations need both the IT capability to get systems in and also the relationship with clinicians to be able to ask the to change the way do business, which is why they bought the system in the first place. How hard will it be for the average hospital to convince physicians to change just because they have data suggesting they need to?
I think it can be challenging. One of the ways to counteract that is having clinicians involved from the beginning in systems design, evidence-based content development, evaluation of clinical workflows, review of training materials, and design of support plans. Engaging clinicians, helping them, and helping the implementation process be done with them and not to them is a huge piece of it. But even as you do that, there will be a large number who won’t be involved in that process.
Then it becomes after the fact. What’s in it for me? It goes back to that idea of return on investment, even on an individual clinician level. Clinically, how can you help me take better care of my patients, whether that’s providing evidence at the time of care or helping me looking at a population of patients? Operationally, how can you help me be more efficient?
The last thing I want to in an ambulatory practice is to spend an extra two hours after my busy clinic going back and documenting in the electronic record, or in an inpatient system, having to round on countless patients. How can you help improve that workflow, leveraging and utilizing technology to support better interaction and communication with all the different stakeholders?
When you’re called into a hospital to consider an engagement, what are some warning signs that things won’t go well?
If it’s only an IT department – CIO or director of IT leading the project– that we’re meeting with, that’s an immediate red flag. I believe that successful implementations are a partnership between IT leadership, operational leadership, and clinical leadership. That would be one of the first ones.
The second is evaluating and understand the experience of their team. Many times an organization’s folks on the ground are going through this for the first time. They don’t have experienced leaders — I’m not talking about outside consultants necessarily — but if they don’t have experienced leaders and project managers who’ve been through the trials and tribulations before, that’s usually a red flag.
Thirdly, how much involvement does the vendor have? A lot of these vendor contracts are different, but I think the most effective vendors have truly become partners with the health systems, providing the right level of assistance — not nickel and diming their health system and practice clients.
Do you think the CPOE battle has been won?
I think it’s more of a war. I think some of the initial battles have been won, but I also think that there’s a long way to go. I think the expectation for physicians will appropriately continue to increase.
Having physicians place orders electronically, we’re seeing consistently — and I think we as the industry — right above 90 percent in most places now. I think the systems are getting better and providing more efficiencies, but there’s still a lot of room to grow. The more that we implement these systems, the higher the expectations are going to be from our physician partners out there in the field.
What are some surprising or fast-moving trends you’re seeing that you wouldn’t have predicted a year or two ago?
Starting to think about how we leverage different technologies to support the continuum of care. This has been a real change in the last 12 to 18 months . The shift from just thinking about “my practice” or “my hospital” to now having to proactively think about the care that’s going to be delivered outside of my four walls. How do we start to leverage technology to support those improved communications — whether that communication is to an outside specialist, a primary care doc, to patients or caregivers, or home health organizations — and helping to leverage some really new, innovative tools to do that.
I think the other interesting one has been the collaboration of differing partners — health plans, insurance companies — setting up NewCos with IDNs to provide and leverage some of the tools that they have to provide better care across the continuum. Pharmaceutical companies partnering with IDNs and analytics companies to look at public health management and how they can better support a large population of patients and pharma helping to support that. We’ve been fortunate to do that work with a couple of top organizations around the country, thinking about how you manage a population of patients and leverage technology to do that differently.
Do you have any concluding thoughts?
The world and the landscape of healthcare is changing so dynamically right now. We know that our clients are facing more and unmet challenges than they ever have before. We think it’s important to treat our clients like partners. We end up saying “we” more than “they.”
We are passionate as individuals and as a company. I take pride in the work that we do and understand the responsibility that goes along with that. Our goal is to think strategically yet practically and deliver creative solutions. I’m proud of the team that we have in place and the work we’ve been able to do with our partners around the country.