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John Glaser on his transition from Partners HealthCare to Siemens

June 29, 2010
by Mark Hagland
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Web-Exclusive Interview: John Glaser, Ph.D., incoming CEO, Health Services Business Unit, Siemens Healthcare

Late last week, the news broke that John Glaser, Ph.D., who has been the CIO at the massive Partners HealthCare system in Boston for a decade and a half, had accepted the position of CEO of the Health Services Business Unit at Siemens Healthcare in Malvern, Pa. Glaser, 55, one of the best-known CIOs in the industry, spoke with Healthcare Informatics' Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding his transition, when he assumes his new position at Siemens on August 16.

Healthcare Informatics: What was your impetus for making this professional transition?

John Glaser, Ph.D.: A couple of things. It’s very clear me, and I was able to mention this to the Siemens staff when I met with them last week Friday—that this is a company with extraordinarily talent, service, and commitment. And I think the thinking at Siemens is right-on about how these [clinical information] systems ought to be put together. So the notion of a heavy emphasis on SOA (service-oriented architecture )and on workflow, is correct and reflects a lot of what we’ve been working on at Partners. And I’ve been here at Partners for 22 years, first as CIO at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and then at Partners the past 15 years, and that’s a great run. So one of the things that’s struck me as a citizen of this industry is that I’ve learned a lot here; and also at CHIME [the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Health Information Management Executives] and HIMSS [the Chicago-based Health Information and Management Systems Society] and with regard to activities related to the federal government. It was a combination of the qualities of Siemens itself, and an acknowledgement of the great run I’ve had at Partners, and the realization that I could contribute in this new way.

HCI: It sounds like a continuation of your overall sense of professional mission, then?

Glaser: Yes, I am absolutely committed to helping the industry move forward, and there is a phenomenal streak of mission in the core of my soul, and I believe in it; and there will be times when we’ll be successful and times when we won’t, but I’m committed to it.

HCI: What have the reactions been at Partners?

Glaser: Well, it’s the usual mix, a lot of congratulations, but also, of course, some anxiety about what will happen next in the organization. And life goes on here at Partners, and IT is needed. So, there’s been great support on one hand, but also, people naturally have been wondering what will happen next.

HCI: Will you be bringing anyone over with you to Siemens from Partners?

Glaser: Not right now, but you never know. I need to spend some time at Siemens thinking things through, but I’m not bringing anyone along with me for now.

HCI: As you prepare to leave the Partners organization, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing it, going forward?

Glaser: In many ways, their challenges are no different from anyone’s in this environment. There’s a high likelihood of ongoing federal reimbursement change, including towards accountable care organizations, and other payment changes. And the consequences of failing to live up to the challenges that society is setting will become more severe over time. And when you have busy doctors and busy nurses and tiny margins, it’s very hard. And when you combine that with a fairly aggressive federal role, whether through meaningful use or Medicare reimbursement changes, or ongoing information technology changes, or changes in medical science, all those things will have an effect. I see personalized medicine moving forward as well. So Partners, like everyone else, will face those kinds of challenges, whether I’m here or not. And one of the things I’m most proud of here is that when I look at the team here, they’re very good. And they will miss me, but it’s not like they don’t know what to do. They have the talent and skills to master the challenges. Initially, there might be a little bit of a feeling of wobbliness, but I’m sure they’ll get over that.

HCI: What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities at Siemens, as you take the helm there?

Glaser: Initially, there’s just a very steep learning curve for me in terms of learning the company and all. I think the challenge that Epic, Siemens, Cerner, all the vendors, face, is that our customers are facing increasing challenges across every dimension, and as the providers’ bar keeps getting raised, so does ours. So the challenge is to figure out where that bar is going, and are the things that Siemens has to offer, appropriate to the challenges. Every company has specific challenges, but those are overshadowed by the bigger challenges. And having been in this industry for a period of time now, I can say that we’re facing an unprecedented time now.

HCI: Siemens approached you, correct?

Glaser: Yes, Tom Miller [CEO of the Workflow & Solutions Division, Siemens Healthcare Sector] asked me if I was interested. And I took a couple of days to think about that, and then I got back to him.

HCI: Will you still be on the federal committee at ONC [Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology]?

Glaser: Actually, my ONC contribution ended at the end of March. I do stay in touch with those folks, but like everyone else outside, I have no idea when the final rule for meaningful use will come out, or its details.

HCI: What did you learn from being involved with ONC for 11 months?