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One-on-One with Memorial University Medical Center CIO Patty Lavely, Part II

January 15, 2009
by root
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Lavely discusses the importance of protecting IT investments during tough economic times and always staying educated

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. The Savannah, Ga.-based facility includes the Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute, the Heart and Vascular Institute, the George and Marie Backus Children’s Hospital and the Women’s Health Institute. This past fall, Lavely was named CIO of the Year by the Georgia CIO Leadership Association. The award recognizes excellence among C-level executives in the IT/IS space, honoring those who have shown excellence in managing enterprise-wide information systems in Georgia. Recently, HCI Associate Editor Kate Gamble had a chance to speak with Lavely about her achievement as well as her plans for MUMC.

Part I

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 brought 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 expensive 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.

So I’m maintaining, still, a state-of-the-art environment in California at McKesson’s data center. It’s funny, the decision really came as a desperate move, but it’s becoming more strategic as we work through it. We think that’s going to be very good for us. I think that really has become a way to work in this financially stressed environment.

KG: Have you had a positive response from the patients as far as using personal records?

PL: We have; our patients have been very receptive to it. We’ve all been kind of surprised at the number of patients that are setting up personal health records. We have participated in employer health fairs and been able to sign up employees on site. They love it.
KG: It seems that with PHRs, the key is how the information is shared by various caregivers and systems.

PL: Right, and in this particular case, the product that we use connects them to their physicians’ practice, so when they set up a personal health record, not only can they populate their health information that we can see, but they can also interact with the practice. Prescription information that is available in RxHub will populate automatically. We are not sending any clinical data to the PHR yet. They can request appointments, ask billing questions, do a follow-up on a test result question, etc. I don’t think we have any physicians responding at this time, but the nurses are. One our employed physicians is my PCP and when I send a message to the practice, I’m actually talking directly with her nurse.