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One-on-One with Memorial University Medical Center CIO Patty Lavely

March 30, 2009
by root
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Lavely discusses the importance of protecting IT investments during tough economic times

Patty lavely

Patty Lavely

Patty Lavely is senior vice president and CIO at Memorial University Medical Center (MUMC), a 530-bed academic medical center that serves a 35-county area in southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina. Last fall, Lavely was named CIO of the Year by the Georgia CIO Leadership Association. Recently, HCI Associate Editor Kate Gamble had a chance to speak with Lavely about her achievement as well as her plans for MUMC.

KG: Memorial University is a stage six hospital, correct?

PL: Yes. We achieved Stage Six of the EMR Staging Model in 2007.

KG: Would you characterize Memorial University as a fairly cutting edge organization?

PL: I would, yes. We have a lot of work to do as far as house-wide deployment, but we are cutting edge. Our leadership has been very supportive. We still have the challenges of adoption and other hurdles like everyone else, but if I can get a pilot group willing to test new technology, I can usually get the support of leadership to do that.

KG: That's extremely important, I'm sure. When you talk about leadership, are you referring primarily to the other C-suite level executives, or physician or IT leaders?

PL: I would say the C-suite and clinician leaders. And I have to tell you, the clinician leaders are the easiest ones. They're usually ready to try anything that will help them deliver better patient care. It helps quite a bit having that kind of environment.

KG: As far as your information systems, are you involved in any major projects or upgrades right now?

PL: We are. Probably the most important project we have going on right now is we are in the midst of moving of our critical core systems to a remote hosting arrangement. We're actually moving them off-site and we're doing that with McKesson, who is our primary application vendor. And as soon as we finish that, we'll be resuming the implementation of AdminRx, which is bedside medication administration. We have a pilot up now and then we're going to roll it out house-wide when we finish the remote hosting. And we have a CPOE implementation underway. It's a little slow right now. We have six units up right now and we're going to change our implementation strategy. So we're in the midst of doing that and then we'll resume that probably in the first quarter of 2009. Our nursing documentation system of 10 years is going through a major upgrade while optimizing our documentation processes. In addition, we have an ambulatory EMR initiative underway that includes a replacement to our practice management system. We are implementing e-prescribing with Relay Health on the ambulatory side, and have pretty active personal health records with our patient base, also using Relay Health. We had a very good response from our patients and that deployment is nearing its completion with our employed physicians. The next step is to bring in some of our strategic partners in community, because as our patients set up their personal health records, they can also connect with physicians to communicate about their care securely electronically. So that project is well underway and will continue throughout the next six months.

KG: What was the impetus for moving the critical systems to remote hosting?

PL: The initial reason for even investigating that was just capital funding avoidance. The organization has been in a significant financial turnaround for the last two years. At the beginning of our financial decline, we had intended to build a new data center; we had actually spent a year designing it, and then we hit the financial crisis, we had to look for other alternatives. So that's what drove us to look at it. But I have to tell you, as we started investigating other alternatives and we decided to partner with McKesson on remote hosting, it's really become a long-term strategy. I don't know if, in the long run, it will reduce our costs, but at this point, it certainly is cost neutral, or close to that. It assures us a level of system availability and reliability that we probably would not have funded ourselves. And if I look at just the situation that we're in today, we don't yet have the level of system availability and reliability that we will have under this agreement. And it will be maintained for us, and that's the challenge we've always had. The initial capital investment is usually pretty easy to sell - it's those major upgrades and uplifts to the environment that are more difficult to get through a capital process. So we no longer have to fight that battle.

KG: That's really interesting. We've been talking to quite a few organizations about how the current economic downturn is impacting the moves they make, and a few CIOs have stressed the importance of focusing on long-term results, and not finding a quick fix.

PL: You bring up a good point with the economy. As we talk about our budgets for the year, we're looking at how to plan if the economy continues to go south. We've got a plan and a budget for 2009, but we really haven't incorporated a significant shift in our payer mix; for example, if there is a significant rise in the unemployment rate, which we anticipate there will be. And so, what is our contingency plan, how are we going to reduce our expenses to be able to respond to that. Well, in an environment where you're highly automated like hospitals are, the first thing to go will be hardware upgrades and infrastructure for the data center. Those are the first things that get cut off the list; I no longer have to be concerned about that.