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Enhancing the Intranet

August 1, 2006
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Christina Birrer moves North Shore forward with an updated intranet.

Christina Birrer is quite clear. She wants to make the HealthPort intranet at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System (NSLIJ) the Yahoo! of the organization.

Birrer joined NSLIJ two-and-a-half years go. Tasked with ramping up its early-stage internal Web, she began at first as a consultant, and later accepted a position as a fulltime employee. With her eye on productivity and efficiency, the assistant vice president of the Great Neck, N.Y.-based health system — which includes 15 hospitals, five home health agencies and four long-term care facilities — is creating a "go-to place" for information and services.

"I really believe what intranets are going to do for us is make healthcare organizations more efficient and employees a lot more productive," she says. "HealthPort is not only transforming business processes, but also is a key unifying factor for our expansive health system."

Through a four portal system, Birrer has created an intuitive, accessible system-wide internal network in an effort to foster cohesion among the more than 35,000 employees spread out across various facilities. The quad system is made up of a physician, nursing, executive and employee portal, which together act as the primary NSLIJ platform for accessing information and conducting internal transactions.

Birrer has posted over 150 forms, nearly 50 policy and procedure manuals, and an employee bulletin board which offers things for rent and for sale — including cars. But for NSLIJ and its over 35,000 employees, Birrer is not finished.

"We're constantly updating and redesigning HealthPort," she says. "The intranet is really about evolving. It's got to be very relevant and very dynamic."

Birrer has enhanced and transformed HealthPort to provide easy access to information, both onsite — across the health system's many locations — and offsite. After all, as she points out, such things should be easy. "There should be no training to use the intranet," Birrer says. "Does anyone get training to use Yahoo!?"

The motivation for having such a system is fostering a better work environment.

At what price?

Of course, it's hoped that a better work environment will translate into better patient care and a better bottom line.

"In terms of personal productivity in healthcare, margins are getting squeezed all the time," Birrer says. "I think most healthcare organizations — if not all — are looking at personal productivity in a very big way. The more productive each of their individual employees and physicians are, the more we help them to do their job easier."

Through the HealthPort physician portal, doctors can access online training programs, medical newsletters and over 30 online policies and procedure manuals. Library services, clinical information system updates and continuing medical education are all accessible via HealthPort. Through focus groups, usability testing and a suggestion box on HealthPort's homepage, Birrer works to update and enhance the system.

"We really want this to be a front door for everything that people need."

Having come to healthcare from an established career in finance where she was senior vice president of New York's JPMorgan Chase and Co., Birrer knew all about the bottom line. She also knew about how to create an intranet for 120,000 employees.

"One of my last assignments at JPMorgan was, and this was 1999, to build an intranet for the organization," Birrer says. "We were in more than 50 countries, so it was a big deal." It was indeed a major undertaking, and Birrer knew she needed to get up to speed. She went out and spent time at IBM and other high-tech companies to learn about how they created their systems.

She may have come to NSLIJ knowing what needed to be done, but Birrer now knows what she wants. "I want them to come in and have to go there," she says. At JPMorgan, employees came in in the morning, checked their e-mail and kept it minimized the whole day, according to Birrer. They used the intranet to background people, look up phone numbers and do company research. At NSLIJ, she'd like them to do the same.

From January 2004 to May 2006, page views jumped from a bit over 400,000 to more than 1.5 million, the number of unique visitors doubled, and physician log-ons nearly quadrupled.

Next up

What's next at NSLIJ is migrating HealthPort's design to make it more intuitive, more interactive and more self-service oriented where employees can do things such as sign up for benefits. "We really want this to be a front door for everything that people need," Birrer says. And at a health system so spread out such as NSLIJ, Birrer wants to foster cohesion and make sure employees feel like they are part of someone unique and special.

One time-saving technique is posting capital project requests, "rather than filling out paper, sending it to someone, having someone review it, sending it to the next person," Birrer says. "You know what happens in the mail. You don't get it. This way you get an alert that says that it went up. You get a message that says this capital request is in HealthPort, and it's waiting for your review to approve or to reject."

Sharing for research, as well as projects, is also an important feature and will be added in the near future. "The more information, the more services you put on the Web to help people do their jobs, the more they will use it." As NSLIJ moves ahead, Birrer says she would like to see people posting their documents to create a more collaborative work environment.

As for intranet advice, Birrer says having senior management understand and support the project is essential. At her healthcare organization, she says, "The buy-in has been phenomenal; the support, extraordinary." But be warned, a project of this magnitude is not something that can be done solo, and developing partnerships is essential. "If you think you're going to walk in and do it by yourself, it's not going to happen."

... a project of this magnitude is not something that can be done solo and developing partnerships is essential. "If you think you're going to walk in and do it by yourself, it's not going to happen."

"If nurses and physicians, employees and executives say, 'This intranet is making my job easier, maybe that's the most gratifying,’” she says.

Author Information:

Stacey Kramer

Mark Hagland is a contributing writer based in Chicago.

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