Skip to content Skip to navigation

One-on-One with Christus Health CIO George Conklin, Part II

July 25, 2008
by root
| Reprints
Conklin talks about investing capital to manage an industry where technology is driving services beyond the four walls of the hospital.

Headquartered in Dallas, Christus Health is a Catholic, faith-based, not-for-profit health system comprised of about 350 services and facilities, including more than 50 hospitals and long-term facilities, 175 clinics and outpatients centers, and dozens of other health ministries and ventures. Christus serves patients in 60 cities in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia and Utah as well as parts of Mexico, and is listed among the nation’s Top 100 Integrated Healthcare Networks. Conklin, who has held the CIO role at Christus since 1999 when Sister of Charity Health System and Incarnate Word Health combined to form a united system, is focused on providing patients with the guidance and support needed to make them patients accountable for their healthcare. He faces a significant challenge in the near future as Christus begins a long-term project of integrating information from across the organization as it seeks to continue to grow acute care while also building non-acute and retail areas as well as international operations.

Part I

KH: So you’d be using information from the patient’s record to steer them in the right direction and away from possible adverse events.

GC: Yes, and also to customize care. It’s about using the system to provide personalized care to the largest extent possible and steer patients away from making a mistake. If you’re a well-insured patient, your appearing in one of our emergency rooms is actually good news for us because we usually get a pretty good fee for that. But it’s not a very good thing from a healthcare mission perspective. Our mission is to help people. Our whole focus is around how do we provide the best care and service to you and apply what we know about you in as many different circumstances across all of Christus to make that care, service, product and/or interaction the best that we can and the most customized for you.

It goes back to the hotel analogy. I frequently stay at Four Seasons hotels. At every Four Seasons I ever stay in, they always know about me. I’m what’s called a curbside patron; I come in and they hand me my key at the front door, I don’t have to go to the desk. They take all my stuff to my room when I’m there — the stay is customized to meet my needs based upon things that they’ve learned about me over the years and that they sometimes ask me about. That’s the kind of personal interaction and relationship that we’re looking to establish with our patients.

Hopefully that is a trend we’ll start to see more of. Now you talked about some of the other more long-term plans Christus has in terms of acute care, non-acute care and retail. What can you tell me about these initiatives?

GC: The imputes for all of this is, in 2000-01 we undertook something we call our Futures Taskforce, and that was an effort that was facilitated by an outside company called the Global Business Network. They don’t exist any longer but are part of what is now called the Monitor Group. At that time they were run by a fellow named Peter Schwartz. He and another fellow named Arie de Geus, back in the 1970s, thought up the concept of scenario planning when they were working with Royal Dutch Shell and they asked what would happen if, for instance, the Arabs decided to cut down on oil supplies — what would Royal Dutch Shell do? And Royal leadership brushed it off and said that would never happen. Well, they laid out a bunch of scenarios and they laid out a bunch of things on the economic impact and brought it back to leadership, who said, it would be stupid of us not to investigate further what our options would be in the event that the Arabs decided to tighten up on oil supplies. So they went through a scenario planning exercise and began to make some investments in Southeast Asia and other oil explorations around the world. And when the Arabs actually did what the planners envisioned, Royal Dutch Shell was in a very good position from a financial perspective to A) survive the Arab oil embargos and to B) ride on a wave of very high oil prices.

In recent years a lot of other stuff has happened with them, but bat that time, it sort of crystallized for the rest of the world the importance of this kind of technology and it ability to be able to create a great foresight on the parts of organizations.

We went through that process in 2000-01 and in July of 2001, we presented the results of our work to combined meetings of our boards at a meeting in San Diego. One of the four scenarios we presented (which I wrote) had to do with a terrorist attack in New York and the subsequent impact on healthcare and healthcare services. I presented a significantly drearier picture of what would go on, but was shocked 60 days later when we had 9/11. So, the predictive power of these technologies is extraordinary.