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A Chat with Catholic Healthcare West's New CIO, Part III

January 23, 2008
by root
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Forty two hospitals? No problem. Ben Williams has it all under control.

Benjamin Williams recently joined San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) as senior vice president and CIO, with a mandate to lead the consolidated technology efforts of the organization's 42 hospitals across California, Arizona and Nevada. As part of his duties, Williams will oversee the organization's business intelligence, IT and clinical information systems, including the ongoing rollout of CareConnect, CHW’s EHR and CPOE system. With a team of over 1,000 and an annual budget of $230 million, Williams will have quite an army to execute his vision. Anthony Guerra, HCI editor-in-chief, recently has a chance to catch up with Williams — the former senior vice president of information services and CIO at 14-hospital St. Joseph Health System in Orange, Calif. — to talk about his plans for the future.

Part I of our interview with Williams, he discussed the reasons for his move to CHW and the evolution of the CIO role.

In Part II, he talked about the importance of involving clinicians in systems rollouts.

AG: I would imagine it takes at least six month before you even know what changes you may want to make, in terms of staff structure or particular vendor contracts. Is that the case?

BW: Well, two month in, I have a pretty good idea. Since I graduated from St. Joseph’s before entering the CHW world, I think there are a lot of best practices and learning that I am bringing with me. At the same time, I’m learning the uniqueness of CHW. It will take a little time. I think the expectation here is relatively high that there will be some level of change. I think we want to continue to evolve our care delivery model and focus more on the future. Increasingly, my role is to ensure that we are not just delivering technology today but helping build where we are going tomorrow. And that is somewhat of a different skill set in terms of where we are and where the industry has been for the past four or five years. All those things kind of come together. So I expect in the next six months, you’re right, to have a fairly structured plan of what were going to keep, what we are going to change, how we are going to be organized. And again, that’s a normal part of leadership and structure change.

AG: Can you take me through, on a high level, your one to three year to-do list?

BW: Overall, our mission is to deliver excellent, compassionate and affordable healthcare. So in addition to engaging with the business side, I think it’s critical to ensure we have the right vision and capabilities around our clinical care transformation process. We have 41 hospitals, we have a big team, and we have good capital, but it’s always a challenge to manage that demand. The demand is very high. So I want to make sure that we have the right cadence and the right plan and the right organizational understanding of that program that will ensure the highest outcomes.

I can’t tell you how high the demand is in this health system and across the nation for advanced clinical systems to be in now, to be effective, and to transform. And it took healthcare a long time to get to that point, and now the demand is exceeding the supply, so that’s going to be a challenge. Another area that is very important is making sure that our governance process works well. The IT governance process, I believe, starts with strategic vision, starts with good education and understanding, and it also must have great business practices around prioritization and setting goals and that type of a thing throughout the organization. An organization this size, with so many moving parts, really has to have strong governance from the very top. It has to have local IS planning councils that are in line with the overall mission, but also give local levels of authority. Then we have other system processes, such as our capital committees, governance boards, the board, and other things that I want to tie together. So governance IT prioritization is very important.