Skip to content Skip to navigation

One-on-One with Lutheran Medical Center CIO Steve Art, Part I

May 13, 2009
by root
| Reprints
Art says the VA’s open-source VistA software is the answer to a cash-strapped industry’s prayers.

Lutheran Medical Center (LMC) is part of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Lutheran HealthCare, an organization which also includes the Lutheran Family Health Centers network and Lutheran Augustana Center for Extended Care & Rehabilitation. LMC is a 476-bed Level I Trauma Center providing ambulatory surgery, cardiac care, neuroscience services, obstetrics/gynecology, spinal surgery, perinatology (maternal/fetal medicine) and oncology (cancer diagnosis and treatment). Recently, HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra had a chance to talk with CIO Steve Art about his facility’s plans to implement the VA’s VistA open-source software supported by MedSphere.

AG: Tell me how your open-source journey started.

SA: I’ve been here eight years now and when I first got here, we did a long-range information systems plan. When I write those things, I try to go out five years. The guy I replaced, his title was CIO, but he had never been CIO before; he had been an implementer, and the guy before him had actually been a salesman and became a CIO. So they had not done a lot of the infrastructure work that needed to get done in any hospital. So my first couple of years were spent building an infrastructure, and then laying on top of the infrastructure the different systems we needed.

I’ll give you an example. The first system we did here was a payroll system. We put in a payroll system in three months because the company that we had as our payroll company was sunsetting its product, and I walked into that. We really did a lot of fundamentals, building-block kind of systems. We had a McKesson STAR implementation that was half done and the operation guys were going crazy with it, and we had to finish it. There was a lot of that kind of catch-up work. The plan had in it that we were going to get all the way up to CPOE with the electronic medical record, barcode med administration, all the stuff that everyone is talking about now – that was in the plan. We built a pyramid – laid the different layers onto it, and when we got to top, we were going to have the electronic medical record.

AG: And that was eight years ago?

SA: We laid that out eight years ago. We knew that’s where we had to go. I told the boss when they hired me how much I thought this is going to cost because she was relatively new and she wanted to know. I said there is so much to do here that it’s going to cost you a lot of money, and you're going to either spend the money all at one time right now or you can spend the money over a number of years, and we’ll get to the same point either way, but it’s going to cost that much money.

I don’t remember the number of years right now, but that’s immaterial. It’s just going to cost whatever that number was. If it’s going to cost $50 million, it’s going to cost $50 million over four years or cost $50 million over one year, it depends on how fast you want to get there. So the sooner we can get the money in, the sooner we can do some of the things that we had laid out and prioritized – the IT steering committee would prioritize what had to get done first and what was most important. As the years went by, prioritizes changed somewhat, but our goal was always to get to this point.

The reason we needed to get physician order entry was for patient safety. That was the reason. We got to the point where we had most all of the other stuff on the pyramid done – we had an OR system, the lab system was in place, the pharmacy system was in place, all the ancillary departments, we got a PACS in place – we did all that preliminary work to get up to this point.

AG: Was this mostly a best-of-breed environment at this point?

SA: We did mostly best of breed, although we were a McKesson shop. McKesson had an opportunity to bid on everything that we did. They, for some reason, never could beat the price of the best-of-breed guys. Now, we didn’t do best of breed in terms of the most expensive vendor. We did best of breed in terms of the one who had a good product that we could buy and we could afford.

We ended up with AMICAS PACS. Of all the PACS vendors out there, AMICAS at that point was not the most expensive PACS and it was a relatively new player in the market. We bought them and they were giving us some great deals. They beat out the company that McKesson ultimately bought. It ended up being the two of them and AMICAS beat their price. We weren’t best of breed in the sense that we were buying the most expensive systems. I don’t want to mislead you. We were doing best of breed in terms in the sense that we did not drink the McKesson Kool-Aid.

AG: So would you say that you picked products from different vendors based on your needs and then you decided that you would deal with interfaces and integration work afterwards?

SA: Correct. We have our own interface group here, so we write our own interfaces and I prefer not to develop software, just as a principle, but we do build our own interfaces. So doing interfaces was not horrible for us and that was the route we took. But best of breed implies you're buying the most expensive product or the top one of the market. It wasn’t a Cadillac. I was buying Chevy, but I was making it work.

AG: I understand what you’re saying.




Great insight into open source and a warning to commercial vendors that it is gaining traction.