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Sharp’s Bill Spooner Shares His Perspectives on the Road Ahead for CIOs

February 25, 2014
by Mark Hagland
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Bill Spooner shares with HCI his perspectives on a decades-long career as a pioneer in healthcare IT

When senior vice president and CIO of the San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare Bill Spooner announced his retirement on Feb. 20 after three decades in healthcare IT leadership, he did so by saying, in the Healthcare CIO SmartBrief published by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), “I have been truly blessed to serve a great healthcare organization during this time. Convinced that we would onlyh succeed by creating, not reacting to, healthcare reform, we embraced diverse payment methods—capitationa nd bundled payments—over 25 years ago and implemented the means to support them with our computer systems… I attribute our success to a tremendous group of IT professionals, users with vision and determination, vendors who usually came through for us and a board and executive team who believed in us. If I have any regrets, it is that I didn’t thank everyone enough.”

Bill Spooner

Spooner’s column in CHIME’s Weekly SmartBrief was an appropriate venue in which to make his public announcement; he has been not only a noted leader at Sharp, but also a national leader among CIOs, serving in a variety of capacities in CHIME’s volunteer leadership over the years, being named the 2009 John E. Gall, Jr. CIO of the Year Award by that organization, and helping to spearhead early and ongoing efforts to create a robust advocacy organization within CHIME over the past decade.

While attending HIMSS14, the annual conference of the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, being held this week at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Spooner spoke with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland about his career and his perspectives on healthcare IT leadership today. (He had also participated in the CHIME-HIMSS Forum, held Feb. 23 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando). Below are excerpts from that interview.

Is there a particular reason that you’re making your professional departure at this time? It certainly is an interesting time in the industry.

It’s a fascinating time in the industry. There’s never a good time to leave the scene. I can joke about escaping this period with meaningful and ICD-10, but really, everybody has to pick a time to retire, and I’m 68 years old.

That said, there is definitely so much excitement going on these days.  I’ve been so motivated for the past ten years. I’ve had such a good organization to work for, with such a good team—which has really given me the luxury to be involved in some things externally. I remember ten years ago this summer, when we first met with Dr. Brailer [David J. Brailer, M.D., the first National Coordinator for Health IT]. CHIME was not an advocacy organization then. But to actually have a full-time staff now that’s making its mark—I think that’s fantastic. Jeff [Smith,  senior director of federal affairs at CHIME] has got more energy than ten people. Sharon Canner  [director of advocacy programs] has the experience and wisdom to help move us down the path. And it’s kind of fun to recognize how far we’ve come.

How has it felt to be involved with other CHIME leaders in really engaging full-bore in advocacy work in Washington, D.C.?

We’ve got to do it. And it’s easy to talk about it in macho terms, but look, a lot of stuff in Stage 1 of meaningful use was done very quickly. And to give someone a few months and ask them to transform the system, that’s just not realistic. And some of the things in Stage 2 are magnifying that. We’re also dealing with getting patients to go online voluntarily in a portal in a hospital—we’re doing it successfully in our medical groups—but the whole transition to the care summary is also very immature. The infrastructure is not there yet, and the relationships are not in place yet, so in some ways, it’s immature. So I’m one-hundred percent behind the idea that they ought to give us a year to delay, because it’s going to be tough to meet the numbers effectively.

How do you feel about your participation in this transformative time in the industry?

Oh, it’s been fantastic. And our organization is so fine. Some of the things I look at that have been sort of the final leap—at one point in the late 1990s, we were trying to justify bringing in new clinical information systems, and our CEO was finally convinced, she believed that an EHR [electronic health record] had to be a part of patient care. And as a CIO, you just appreciate that kind of support.

What do you think your biggest accomplishments have been at Sharp over the years?

I like to point to the employee stuff. People talk about best places to work—we’ve been cited as a best place to work by numerous publications, and cited in employee surveys as a great place to work. We were number 6 or7 in ComputerWorld’s listing, across the country. And there’s nothing like being able to accomplish some good things and still have people like their jobs.

Given everything you’ve experienced in the past decades, what would your advice be for other CIOs, going into the future?