Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hospital CIO series: Steve Huffman of Beacon Health System

I have decided to do a series of blog posts on hospital CIOs perspective on data and analytics and vendors…. I have talked to a lot of industry people (which has been fantastic fun and really great mentorship for me) but now really want to focus on what does the hospital want, need, think…..I believe that we, as vendors, focus a lot on what we think they want and what we think they need. In the world of analytics – there is a lot of newness so there is some providing them with what we “think”. However, how many times are you in a hospital each year trying to gain perspective from end users and from patients? How many times are you actively seeking to identify how your niche really applies to the day to day activity of the nurse or patient?

Recently, I was sitting at Denver International and playing on twitter. A CIO, who always is insightful, was posting a series of tweets on what not to do in a web ppt. As he published his disdain for vendors use of the popular sales medium (I was feverishly taking notes to send to @sphere3kyle) I thought – how many times do we as vendors believe we are enlightening a hospital. I was so inspired, I emailed him and he graciously agreed to chat on the phone with me – what ensued was one of the best conversations I have ever had with a CIO. Probably because I wasn’t selling a thing – I was listening to the perspective of someone who lives it everyday and was willing to share his thoughts.

Steve Huffman has been CIO of Memorial Health System – now Beacon Health System (South Bend, Indiana) since 2008. Prior to working for the health system he worked for the “startup” Medical Manager/WebMD. I rarely call someone brilliant but interviewing him was a lot like when I interviewed Tom Herzog….a wild ride of ideas and statements that each in its own could define an entire blog post. I will focus on a few in this post and maybe pull a few out for another.

One statement that stuck with me (as a vendor and business owner) was this “CIOs who spend more time with vendors than observing what is actually occurring with end users are doing it wrong.” I think back to that scene from Backdraft when Kurt Russell tells whichever Baldwin brother that is “You’re doing it wrong – if you do it that way it will fly open and you will die.” How many CIOs go from meeting to meeting and instead of engaging the end users ?  They are stuck hearing it second hand. If they continue down the exhausting path of being segregated from the actual floor experiences and perspectives of end users and patients...they will in essence die from project failure or burn out. As a vendor my mind immediately went to, how do I facilitate that process more effectively - instead of standing up with a ppt.....

Steve's next statement I will take to all my startup friends.  “Not everything can revolutionize healthcare, and that’s ok.” His cynicism has grown as every excited sales person stands up with a vision of a revolutionary change provided by their product. This is completely contrary to what every academic professor tells you when creating a “High Profit Venture” Steve’s contention was – revolutionizing healthcare cannot be done with a product – it can only be done by those who are working in the hospital. The change is not a technology – the change is an action and while it can be enabled by technology it cannot be caused by technology. Not even the EMR is revolutionizing healthcare, its recording data….which is good but not the change agent needed to meet the expectations that are coming down from the government.

The last thing I asked Steve was for a real world example of how analytics has impacted his career. This was the most exciting part of our conversation. An analytics team was asked by leadership to examine why they were having so many readmissions in the Emergency Department. They began observing and analyzing the EMR data regarding the consistencies of the patients diagnosis. “I was sure it was going to be heart related....”Steve had no idea how heart related it really would become to him. The consistencies were not related to a medical diagnosis that could be healed with pills, the consistent diagnosis was alcohol and drunkenness. So to reduce the number of readmissions, Steve began to seek out where in the community individuals with this challenge could go for help. He found that the local shelters did not accept people who had been drinking or were on drugs – even in the cold weather. That winter a man died in a garage due to exposure to the cold. Steve said “I didn’t hear the audible voice of God, but I knew that He was telling me – you know too much to do nothing.” So Steve and a small team had a mission and set out to find a solution. He and his wife and the small team set out to start a ministry to provide a place to sleep, eat, and be spiritually fed for the down and out of South Bend Indiana. Several churches stepped up to help. Now Steve spends his free time feeding the stomachs and souls of those in need.
For us an experience created a mission for analytics. For Steve an analytics created a mission.  Sometimes it's not about "revolutionizing" healthcare but it's learning to care for others. 

Follow Steve @SteveHuffmanCIO