Small hospital, big focus on Stage 2

September 12, 2014 in Medical Technology

If Tom Johnson, CIO of DuBois Regional Medical Center, had to pick one word to describe his hospital’s success – particularly on the meaningful use front – it would be “focus.” He’s the kind of guy who likes to keep his eye on the ball.

The word “focus” crops up often as he describes the IT team’s approach to work. And, it’s likely focus that got DuBois Regional to the head of the line when it was time to attest to meaningful use, Stage 2. The 250-bed hospital, part of a small, integrated delivery network in Northwestern Pennsylvania, was first to attest among a handful of hospitals that attested early. Though more hospitals have attested to date, the number could still be counted on a couple sets of hands.

“For us it’s our No. 1 mission,” Johnson told Healthcare IT News. “It’s top priority and the focus for us.” Johnson said. “So, I don’t know that all hospitals are going to agree that meaningful use is their No. 1 focus. Literally, it’s our competitive advantage because our patients are the beneficiaries of all this improved safety, improved quality, improved efficiencies.”

[See also: Stage 2: Rubber meets the road.]

He points out that being a small hospital in a small network probably gives it an advantage when it comes to achieving Stage 2. Huge health systems are probably juggling many projects.

“We’re not starting companies, and building new and innovative products,” he said. “Our focus is delivering patient care and doing the best job that we can with it. So, we’re able to align our IT projects with all the other projects in our hospital, and integrate them all together. So, everybody is literally working on this – with one focus throughout our entire hospital.”

There were some items that were challenging. One of them was the patient portal, engaging patients and families in their care and the HIE, or health information exchange. “Those are the ones that took the bulk of the time, effort and focus to really position us to be the first hospital to attest in the country, which we were,” Johnson said.

Providing the focus are about 30 IT staffers, among them a hard-core group of six people “that really made all of this happen,” Johnson said. “So, not a lot of people, but highly focused and motivated people.”

“Myself as the CIO,” Johnson continues, “I know the measures very well. I get down into the details and make sure the reports are right. I talk to the end users. It’s very important to me as well, personally. Getting involved, leading by example, and getting everyone focused and working together is important for us, so we make it a priority.”

[See also: Will Stage 2 climb inspire or derail?.]

There are a number of core measures for meaningful use, and some have to be achieved at a certain percentage. Then, there are so-called menu items from which to choose a certain number.

“So, they might have six optional items,” Johnson said. “We try to do all six because we know we’re eventually going to have to do them. And, we don’t just do 5 percent, or 10 percent. We try to do 100 percent. It’s very hard to do something 5 percent of the time if you’re going to do it well and reliably.

The way Johnson and is team like to handle a new IT project is to write up policies and procedures, get leadership to adopt them, and give it 100 percent.

“That’s the right thing to do for patients,” Johnson said. “That’s the right thing to do for sustainability. If you do something 5 percent of the time, you check the box. Come back in three months and see if you’re still doing it. Probably not.”

Dubois Regional and one other hospital of the four-hospital IDN have a Cerner EHR. One hospital has a Meditech system and another has a Siemens system. Both are expected to switch to Cerner, Johnson said, so all the hospitals will operate on the same platform.

“So, that’s the direction we’re heading, but it’s not been contracted,” he said.

Colleagues and others in the IT field ask Johnson: How much more did it cost than Stage 1? Are you going to be able to do Stage 3? How many additional staff did I hire?

“The answer to that is “almost nothing,” he said. “We’ve made very little investment, hired no additional people, and we’re well positioned for Stage 3, whatever that’s going to be.”

Johnson sure makes it sound easy.

“It’s like everything else in life, he said. “If you’re focused and your well positioned to do it. Then, it’s just your ability to execute on it.”

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