Q&A with Mark McMath, CIO at Methodist Le Bonheur
Hospitals and health systems face daunting challenges when it comes to effectively communicating and sharing data and information across their organizations. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH), a fully integrated delivery network including six hospitals, a home health agency, ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient facilities, hospice residence, and physician practices in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas is no different. With the busiest emergency department in TN and the entire Mid-South and named the 2016 Best Hospital IT Department in the country in the “Super Hospitals” category by Healthcare IT News, Mark McMath, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at MLH understands the many communication challenges hospitals face and how to put a secure IT infrastructure in place to combat the challenges. We sat down with Mark to discuss the subject and here’s what he shared with us:
Q. As a CIO, when it comes to data visibility or use, what is important to you?
A. Our first priority is providing great patient care. This means always looking for ways to make sure we are providing the most effective care in the most efficient way, and generating the best outcomes. Operationally, we want to ensure that when someone presents in one of our hospitals, the care team is able to access all of the information from our ambulatory locations, like the patient’s primary care physician’s office. And once someone is discharged from one of our facilities, we want to ensure that the relevant information is readily available for the primary care physician to follow-up. This allows our care team to have the right information at the right time to deliver effective and efficient care.
Q. What are the challenges that exist for hospitals and health systems when information is housed in numerous repositories?
A. The largest silo is each electronic medical record (EMR). We’ve spent countless hours ensuring data is accessible and secure so that as patients move around our healthcare system, the person that is caring for them has the necessary information to provide the best care. Quite frankly, extracting all the other information that isn’t actually housed in a repository or system is what we are currently trying to figure out. For example, how do we transfer the information in providers’ heads to other members of the care team? An important component of our overall strategy is making sure we have a way to easily communicate what needs to happen next from one team member to another. This is where a care collaboration platform that unites communication and clinical workflows, like PatientTouch, is helpful.
Q. How has the proliferation of new platforms, systems, and technology made streamlining and sharing data better or worse?
A. The more homogeneous an environment is, the less complexity you have in terms of being able to securely liberate and share information. That homogeneity allows you to successfully narrow down your sources of truth. Patients have always seen us as one organization that can provide the best quality care when they walk into any of our six hospitals or other facilities. They want personalized, compassionate care from the clinicians who treat them. Technology can enable this. The more spread out the data is, however, the more challenging it is for an organization to provide that kind of personalized patient experience. You have to decide what is right for the patients you care for and the organization you serve. At MLH, we recently finished our organization-wide system strategic plan and complementary IT strategic plan, which includes implementing PatientTouch to help us streamline the liberation and leveraging of our data to ensure the best patient care.
Q. How much effort of your group would you say is put into the issue of either managing different data silos or aggregating information?
A. It’s a high priority. For our team to do quality reporting across various EMRs, it’s not a matter of running and writing one report. You have to have the ability to write and run a report that offers the same information across all those different platforms. When it comes to providing secure access to the information, we have a whole team that supports this effort. In terms of the large data, like enterprise data warehouse and clinical variation reduction, we’re collaborating with other areas of the clinical and operational departments within the organization. We likely spend five to ten percent of our time in this area. That may not seem like a lot, but the only thing getting more of our time and attention right now is cybersecurity.
Q. What are some ways you ensure the accessibility and security of that data?
A. We use the eClinical Works (ECW) in our primary care offices and Cerner EHR for all of our hospitals. Their two HIE platforms allow information from the ECW record to be securely viewed by physicians in the ED. In the ED, a physician has access to his or her patient’s most recent medications, medical problems, allergies, etc. It’s critical to have all of that information in one place, and safely so. When real-time patient, clinical and care team data is easy to share and secure – moving in or out of the hospital, or between physicians within the hospital – quality of care and outcomes improve.
Q. How might a secure, clinical communications and workflow platform contribute to real-time data integration?
A. Using PatientTouch will allow our care teams to communicate more effectively and more efficiently. For example, in our children’s hospital, if we have an ED physician who needs to reach out to a neurologist after hours, they won’t have to worry about who’s on call or what that person’s cell number is. Our physicians and care teams will be able to automatically connect with one another through this platform. Additionally, it not only will allow the nurses and other members of the care team – case managers, clinical pharmacists, and social workers – to be able to communicate better but patients, too. Through the nurse call system, we want patients and family members to be able to quickly get in touch with a member of their care team to report patient needs. We want to make sure our care teams have clear, real-time access to the data and information that will directly affect the care of patients, moment to moment.
Q. How does cybersecurity play a role in dealing with data visibility?
A. Beyond providing the best care to our patients, our number one priority is ensuring their information is secure. Patients share very sensitive information with us, and we need to safely communicate this information across providers, care teams, and sites of services. We have an obligation to make sure that people who give us their most trusted information have confidence not only in their care, but also in the security of the information they’re sharing with us. We’re spending a lot of time working to increase our resiliency as the world continues to change around us. With the global attack WannaCry and most recently with Equifax’s attack, this has become even more urgent. Patients see these breaches and if they don’t have confidence that we will keep their information safe, they will be reluctant to give us the information we need to quickly and effectively treat them. We have a responsibility to our patients and we’re committed to ensuring the right technology and processes are in place to secure patient data while also liberating and communicating the necessary information to clinicians and care teams.
For more information on how a mobile communications and workflow platform can securely deliver clinical and patient data to point of care, check out these resources:
- How I.T. Can Curb Staff Interruptions with Healthcare Communication Solutions
- Smarter Systems, Safer Patients
- Tip Sheet for IT Professionals: 3 Keys to Unifying Communication and Workflow in Your Hospital