Michelle O’Connor is president and chief operating officer of Meditech of Westwood, MA.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I took over as president about six months ago. I was previously chief operating officer over operations and primarily development. I am now being reintroduced to a great leadership team that is responsible for our customer experience implementation and client services. We are re-engineering how we look at implementation to improve the physician experience and how we can improve customer experience as we continue to service them moving forward.
It is uncommon for companies to move developers into key executive roles, and Meditech is also different in that most of its executives have spent their entire working lives with Meditech. What is the company’s philosophy as the folks who founded the company and worked early in its 50-year history are handing over the reins to the next generation of leadership?
Part of the preparation for me taking over this role has been succession planning, which has been in the works at Meditech for many years. I’ve been in development, but previously I did work in implementation and worked on human resources with our staff management process re-engineering. I’ve done a lot of work with our staff, how we run the company internally and how we operate everything.
Working in development, I get introduced to the customer fairly regularly. Not necessarily in servicing and implementation, but I do work directly with them. That was especially true when we changed to an Agile development world, which I implemented seven or eight years ago when we started Expanse development. We engage our customers directly into the development process.
The plan for me to take over this role has been very well thought out. I’m prepared for what I need to do to take on more responsibility. That doesn’t mean that we don’t still have Hoda Sayed-Friel working more directly with our business partners and our professional services division and Helen Waters working with our marketing and our sales team. Those strengths help balance my role.
How does Meditech do business differently than competitors whose executives come and go from other health IT companies?
The value that Meditech brings to the table is that we look at what we need to do, we set a direction, and we move forward. Who would have thought that our senior VP of product development would have said in around 2010 when tablets came out that, “This is what we need to do in the future. We need to have mobile electronic health records.” We had just purchased LSS Data Systems.
Because we are a technology company, we stay abreast of healthcare’s needs. We are able to pivot, move, and make decisions that allow us to do the right thing for the healthcare industry. We’ve been in the industry for 50 years. We have a touch on what customers need. By promoting from within, we allow ourselves to grow, evolve, and change to support it.
Meditech provides systems that go beyond core clinical or EHR functionality into modules that support nearly every aspect of a hospital’s operations in a long list of non-clinical departments. How hard is it to provide that breadth of systems?
I started with the revenue cycle product, which taught me the entire system and how things all come together. I look at non-healthcare technology companies and I can’t think of another industry that has to provide the level of service and the amount of functionality that we do. Meditech is one of the only vendors left that does financials. We are competitive with Cerner and Epic in the EHR, pharmacy, and lab space, but we provide financials and general ledger as well. It helps that we have been in business for 50 years.
It’s difficult for vendors to get into healthcare because our customers expect that level of integration. They expect that when you register in the lab system and populate a document that the pathologist reviews that we also drop a charge that goes over to revenue cycle so that your cost accounting system can deal with it and your general ledger can handle it. Then you send out a check for AP to do an overpayment to a patient. That’s totally expected of any of the vendors right now.
What are the biggest changes or trends you’re seeing across health systems?
Of course there is consolidation, but in terms of technology trends, I see providers who need to outsource their IT services through private clouds or what we’re going to be offering as the public cloud. It has become so complex for our organizations to support themselves. It’s a big change for them having public clouds handling the infrastructure and some of the help desk services. That’s one of the reasons we’re getting into the hosting business in offering Meditech as a Service or through Google.
We’re also doing it because of security concerns. Security is a huge risk. How many healthcare systems have been taken down for weeks and months from ransomware, and how did that disruption affect their overall business operations? A CIO recently told me that security is outside the EHR, but I think security is something that we as an EHR vendor have to do, to provide a system that can be highly secure. How can we do that more effectively and more cost-effectively?
We’re seeing a lot of announcements from health IT vendors who are partnering with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, not just for hosting, but for using their embedded technologies to change the way they design and build their software. How will your relationship with Google change Meditech as a product and as a company?
It has already changed us, to be honest. In January, we’re releasing our first cloud-based product, High Availability Snapshot, where we are providing the ability for a customer to have access to the electronic health record through Google Cloud services. If they get hit with ransomware and their systems are down, they can go directly to the public cloud through a cellular connection and get a snapshot of that patient’s record. They can at least know what was done to the patient prior to their system going down while they recover from their disaster.
We are working on interoperability changes and API changes that will primarily use Google services. In addition, Meditech itself is lifting and shifting – I actually saw that term in a dictionary recently — lifting and shifting our EHR to run on a private cloud or on premise to the public cloud. As we’re doing that, we’re making significant changes to how Meditech systems are architected in order to run in the public cloud.
Our newest app is Expanse Now, which will be coming out early next year. It is voice enabled and it’s a Google services app as well. Creating new apps, building interoperability standards within the cloud services, and re-engineering our entire EHR to run in the cloud are the three primary things that we’re going to be using cloud services for.
How will these cloud services relationships change the health IT competitive landscape?
When we decided to write our product on a tablet and make it mobile, we made a concerted effort to build it based upon web infrastructure and not do direct apps, to allow us to have a cloud-based product working with on-prem. At that particular time, the clouds weren’t ready for us. Our goal was always to get Expanse into the public cloud. Honestly, it’s been a little quicker than I thought it was going to be.
A year ago, Meditech itself moved our entire operations to the cloud. Then we were going to move our EHR into the cloud. We accelerated that. Not only was it something we felt we could do, we found that with our infrastructure, we could do it much more quickly than we originally thought.
Expanse is getting the recognition that it deserves right now. The industry is seeing it as a great mobile platform to run electronic health records and to give our physicians mobility. Our nursing product recently gave them mobility as well. By doing it through the cloud, we’re giving our customers the ability to get there a lot quicker than they might have been able to if they were doing it on-prem.
There’s a lot more hardware and infrastructure needed to run these systems and costs are higher. By providing them through cloud services, we’re able to get them to the customer quickly without the high capital expenditure and to provide it more economically.
You’re sleeping behind enemy lines in being surrounded by a lot of Epic-using big academic medical centers. How would you, as a patient and a competitor, describe the state of interoperability in the Boston area?
You’re asking me a difficult question. I have elderly parents who have been going through the healthcare system pretty regularly over the past year. Interoperability in our industry is not good, the ability to share a record from a physician’s office to a hospital and to be transitioned to a tertiary care center or to a rehab center. We need to do better as an industry.
We believe that through our Traverse interoperability service, through using CommonWell, and by continuing to push upon using interoperability standards, that healthcare can get better if we all play together. We all work well together. We have seen a lot of the industry doing that. You see vendors coming together with CommonWell, Carequality, and things like that to push the standards. I know the government doesn’t think that we’ve been moving fast enough, but we all want to move data along more quickly to make sure that patients can be taken care of more effectively.
One thing you don’t know about me is that I really believe in what we do. Being in the industry for 31 years, we provide a tool that allows caregivers to deliver care to patients. We take that very seriously from a patient safety perspective and from a fiscally responsible perspective.That comes down to who we are as a company and who I am as a person. I truly believe that it doesn’t matter if you’re running Epic, Meditech, Cerner, or Allscripts — everybody has to be able to interoperate. Even if you have two different Epic systems, they still have to interoperate.
Are customers demanding better interoperability and system usability, or have their own internal policies and deployment choices made the EHR what it has become?
A lot of it goes back to the original question. It’s a lack of understanding of the complexity of the healthcare system and the data in which the systems are out there. Vendors are willing to share the data, especially defined data sets. It’s a matter of making sure that healthcare systems themselves understand that they have to share the data. But how difficult is it to share the data when it’s so vast and deep, and what is the actual data that needs to be shared? It’s not debits and credits. It’s not your ATM. It’s a lot more complex than that. If we all continue to work together, we’re going to get through this in the short term.
What population health management technologies are customers using or requesting?
We have a couple of perspectives on population health. There is managing patients that you’re seeing through through our registries within our ambulatory product. We have a robust system for managing the population of patients that you’re seeing. Then there’s the overarching population health, where you’re given the panel of patients that you’re responsible for managing.
We believe that we need to continue to provide the system in which you care for your patients, the system in which you are seeing what care gaps a patient might have, and things like that. But we’re not the insurance company that has the algorithms to figure out which patients are higher at risk. We are using a system called Arcadia to manage that by gathering all the claims, then providing back into the workflows of the caregivers and practice managers what needs to be done to take care of the patients.
Do you have any final thoughts?
After 50 years, Meditech has continued to evolve and change. We are the leading vendor that has been in this industry the longest. We’ve had a number of accolades. We had PCI and we had the first handheld nursing tool. We continue to use technology to move us forward. Expanse is live and people are seeing the difference in delivering care with the mobile platform that we’re providing. They continue to see Meditech provide technology to the delivery of care to provide better service than we’ve ever provided.
Our founder Neil Pappalardo always wraps up all of his conversations with, “The best is yet to come.” I truly do believe that.