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One-on-One with Methodist Hospital CIO Kara Marx

April 7, 2008
by root
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With her background as a nurse, CIO Kara Marx is able to tell clinicians she’s walked in their shoes.
Methodist Hospital, founded in 1903, is a 460-bed, not-for-profit hospital serving the central San Gabriel Valley in California. The JCAHO-accredited organization provides acute care services such as medical, surgical, perinatal, pediatrics, oncology, intensive care (neonatal and adult), and cardiovascular, including open-heart surgery. HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra recently had a chance to chat with Marx about her work.

AG: When exactly did you start in the CIO role at Methodist?

KM: I started as a consultant and then they hired me on.

AG: When did you come over as a consultant?

KM: In about June of 2006.

AG: In June ’06, you were a consultant, and were you functioning as a CIO in that role?

KM: Interim, yes.

AG: How long did it take between June and when they hired you on full time?

KM: It was about a year.

AG: And were you interested in becoming the fulltime CIO — what was the dynamic there?

KM: That’s a good question. It’s not necessarily that I was pursuing it, but I have the attributes that they needed here for the project moving forward. The existing environment was a lot of long-term IT department managers who really knew operations and knew applications, but there was little knowledge and experience with strategy and what was going on in the industry and how to lead something and actually market the IT department and gain buy in from the stakeholders. That’s really what I brought in and since it was such a good match — it was just such like a natural fit — it made sense for me to stay. Originally, it wasn’t what I was pursuing.

AG: What were you pursuing, or is that off topic?

KM: I guess it’s a bit off topic, but I mean just a career in consulting. I don’t know if you found my auto-signature. My background is nursing. I have a Master’s degree in healthcare administration. I really just always wanted to be in healthcare IT because of my clinical background, and because I really have a belief and passion for it, but I had worked for a software vendor for eight years with one of the big players.

AG: Can you tell me who?

KM: Cerner. I’m very grateful to them because actually I learned a lot about software development and implementations. And then I wanted to round out my background, so I went into the consulting industry and spent some time with First Consulting and then with HealthLinks. I felt like that was really where I needed to spend more time and continue to round out my skills. I wanted to continue to work in healthcare IT in some capacity and enjoyed the strategy, but if you work for a consulting company, you can continue to do at a lot of different levels. So it wasn’t that if anyone had asked me a few years ago what do you want to do, my first reply was not I’m on a CIO path. My answer is, to be able to make a difference and help other people who have the same passion achieve success and change healthcare. If I need to do that as a project manager or a CIO, I mean, it’s more of my passion than the outcome.

AG: Was the offer to become a CIO just too good to pass up? What was it about this offer that attracted you?

KM: It really was the organization and what they needed and what I could provide them. It was such an ideal fit that I wanted to help them reach their goals. One of the pinnacle events was they signed a significant contract with Eclipsys for an EMR implementation. I assisted with the contract negotiations, and since I was intimate with the contract, it made sense when they said, ‘Hey, can you stay and help us do it since we’ve never done this before.’ I said, ‘You have a good point, and I think you need my help, and I think I’m a good fit.’ I’m more driven personally about being able to make a difference and contribute in mutual successes, so that’s where I thought I could provide based on where I was in my career.

AG: I know you are a nurse.

KM: I am. My license is current in New York, as a matter of fact.

AG: Tell me about your nursing experience; were you a floor nurse for many years?

KM: Yes. As a matter of fact, I had 10 years of inpatient and outpatient ambulatory experience nursing.

AG: What facility were you with — what hospital?

KM: St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, and then I worked for a large family practice group — a 30-physician practice up there — and it had grown throughout the years, but when I left it was about a 30-physician practice also in the Syracuse area (family practice medicine). I had background in both sides of care spectrum.

AG: And you just had a natural affinity for IT?