Laura O’Toole is president of Santa Rosa Consulting of Franklin, TN.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’ve been with Santa Rosa Consulting for 10 years and have played many roles here. I’m a passionate person. I pride myself on being a good mother and I live my life every day with gratitude and an appreciation for our industry because I’m a breast cancer survivor.
Santa Rosa is a professional services company that focuses on outcomes-based solutions for our clients. As of late, we are leading with more niche and meaningful services that we think our clients need to pivot to in continuing to be successful.
How did your experience as a patient with breast cancer change your perception of the healthcare system?
It has changed it a lot. It has certainly given me more appreciation for the importance of integration and communication among providers. That was a point that was very frustrating to me. Even as well as I can navigate the system, it also got me to see, upfront and center, how important it is to be an advocate for yourself. As a patient, you have to make a conscious choice to engage in your own care.
As somebody who has grown up in this industry and made it my whole career, it gave me a sense of empathy and almost a sadness for patients who don’t know as much as I do and the number of their questions that don’t get answered along the journey of being sick.
But mostly it gave me an appreciation for this industry and for what we all do. I do believe all of us — regardless if you’re a vendor, a professional services company, or whoever you are in this space that serves patients — want what’s best for patients. We as an industry have an obligation to do more to keep that patient at the center and to focus on the importance of clinical workflow.
It changed my life being sick, frankly. It made me look at everything differently. I live my life with a level of gratitude that I never had before. There’s still a lot to do in our space to make it better for patients.
How did you see the importance of technology as a patient versus what you expected?
Technology is the cornerstone of the building and at the center. Even as someone who operates every day in health IT, I never realized how important it is. If clinicians and providers could embrace technology as much as their IT counterparts do, we would start to see some real magic.
How has the demand for consulting services changed in the past few years?
The landscape has really changed. We have seen that as some firms are still around and some aren’t. Back in the day, everybody was focused on Meaningful Use because there was a lot of opportunity. I believe now that the healthcare professional services space needs to continue to put their clients at the center, but specifically to define value-add, niche, or bolt-on services.
So many of our clients now have implemented their core EHR. How do you take them to that next level? The consulting firms that can provide the most value to their clients are the ones that are looking out past where our client is today and listening to the client and what isn’t working for them.
We think the timing is right for test automation. Our clients simply cannot meet the escalating demand for the comprehensive testing that is required of the complex IT ecosystems that we’re seeing, along with the frequency of upgrades and releases from their EHR vendors. Clients don’t have the money or the resources to have armies of people, additional testers, and pulling their subject matter expects out of their day jobs away from being out in front with their business partners solving problems.
I believe that niche offerings like test automation — built from the ground up exclusively for healthcare and workflow centric — can give our clients more time, more energy, and more focus on their projects and patients. This is where the services for consulting companies need to go.
Integration as a service is critically important for our clients. Being able to fill a client’s needs just in time and to help them on the talent curve is also important.
The company does a lot of Meditech work and that company has made big changes to both its products and leadership team. How will their new professional services offering affect your business?
Certainly a large part of our business is around Meditech. We are a 6.1 Expanse partner. We have a detailed implementation methodology. I think we are the only firm that is confident enough in our delivery that we can provide that implementation on a fixed-fee basis. Meditech is transforming their business and their company. I believe they will be one of the three players left standing.
It’s interesting to me that they have focused on professional services. We believe it’s better to have an independent third party supporting our clients. We believe it drives better outcomes for our clients and that the client should always be at the center.
That said, we have great appreciation for what Meditech is trying to do. We will work alongside them, and with them, to continue to serve our clients and to do what’s right. I love the Expanse platform. It will take many of the Meditech clients that move to that platform to a whole other level of interoperability and care for their patients, so I commend them.
Are your clients asking for help with the industry’s move to the cloud?
Anything that we can do, or that vendors can do, to support interoperability for clients is the right thing to do. If you think back even if a few years ago, we had big health systems not wanting to share data and vendors not wanting to share information. But the constituents that need to share data are our patients and our clinicians. The more that we can evolve and support even bolt-on solutions or capabilities that provide interoperability is what is best. The cloud, and moving as much as we can to create a landscape that allows for more interoperability, is the right thing to do and what we all need to focus on. For our clients where that makes sense, that is our recommendation.
We also advise our clients that they need to look at other solutions and some bolt-on solutions that can take them up the delivery curve to best serve their patients and their physicians. It’s not always about the core vendor. Certainly that’s the cornerstone of the building, if you will, but there’s still a lot that can be done to make a difference and to get more niche services that can provide the optimum value.
How you determine the right time to develop a service line around a particular technology based on its maturity?
In professional services, it is “some days peanuts, some days shells.” You have to take the time to listen to your clients. We have built our company around several flagship accounts where we have done work from our inception as a company. We will continue to do that. We regularly talk with and use a core set of great talent within our client base to hear what their problems are, to try to get ahead of that curve.
There will be some that you will hit on, some that you will miss on. As I mentioned, test automation and the results and benefit for a client are just undivided. Clients like Novant Health, one of the leaders in the implementation of Epic, have realized dramatic improvements and time savings in their testing capabilities. They have been results driven and have the opportunity to reduce real risk in patient safety in clinical care and in revenue cycle integrity.
There’s a whole host of secondary benefits to that. Education and training. Everyone uses the word optimization. I don’t like that word, but taking their EHR up the value chain for their providers, for their clinicians, and improving data quality. If you focus on the core of what will make a health system successful and keep it around those offerings that can reduce time, save them money, and propel them into the future, you are doing the right thing for your clients.
You will always have some that that hit and some that don’t. You have to have a core base of flagship clients that know you, trust you, and know that you mean what you say and say what you mean. It becomes a personal commitment to serve them well. If you have that as the basis of who you are, you will do well, figure it out along the way, and as some offerings catch and some don’t, ride that wave and continue to do good work.
Do you see any little-recognized developments that could take the industry in a different direction?
I don’t see a tremendous amount on the horizon from a regulatory perspective as we did in the rear view mirror of the past. All of the clients that I talk to are trying to figure their integration and governance strategy for telehealth. I think that will propel us. You’ll see a lot more in home health and outside the traditional box. Integration and integration as a service is an area we’ll focus on.
You have to be able to plug and pull and have time available when a client needs it. They are just like us in going through ebbs and flows. There will be a dramatic need for high degrees of flexibility because our clients need to be able to provide quality care and some of them are struggling to get there without looking at the full landscape of everybody that is providing care in their ecosystem. Telehealth will be an interesting dynamic over the next several years.
Do you have any final thoughts?
I love our industry. All of us in healthcare want to provide value for our clients so that they can better serve their patients. Being a patient myself, I’ve gained such an appreciation for that and a gratitude for what providers and clinicians do every day to serve our clients. I look forward, as does Santa Rosa, to staying a part of that industry that supports care and makes a difference for people.
At the end of the day, we all have people who we love and care about that we want to see healthy. Healthcare is a beautiful place to be and I’m delighted to be a part of that industry and to serve it.