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IT Leaders Should be ‘Less Superman, More Clark Kent’

May 9, 2012
by Jennifer Prestigiacomo
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Setting process improvement goals is key to taking the surprises out of healthcare IT

Drexel G. DeFord, board chairperson, CHIME, and senior VP and CIO at Seattle Children’s Hospital & Research Institute urged CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders to be ‘less Superman and more Clark Kent’ in their daily work, on May 8 at the HCI Executive Summit, held at the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Fl. DeFord said that being more like Clark Kent meant standardizing processes and eliminating wasteful practices so that IT leaders didn’t have to constantly swoop in like a superhero to fix IT problems.

“If you focus on the process, the result will take care of itself,” DeFord said. “If you relentlessly focus on the process and process improvement, you don’t have to worry about the goal. The goal will happen.”

Drexel DeFord

In his rousing closing keynote address at the HCI Executive Summit, an intimate gathering of industry-leading CIOs, CMIOs, and federal policy and health IT leaders, DeFord, a retired Air Force officer, who became Board Chair of CHIME in January, said health IT leaders needed to constantly strive for perfect in their work and set goals for process improvement to drive change forward. “Pursuit of perfect is what makes us better every day,” he said. “Nothing should ever be good enough. You should always be trying to take one second or one step out of the process to continue to take waste out of the healthcare system.”

Fundamental to standardizing processes in healthcare and removing unnecessary variation is process documentation, DeFord said. He admitted that physicians and IT engineers found documentation challenging. “They’re both really scientists, and they want to keep things in their head,” he said. “We need to get people to sit down and create these flowcharts, and really understand the checklists because they have to follow them every day.”

Healthcare IT departments should be more than software implementers, but be “information solution providers” to make access to information easier and faster to provide safer and more efficient care delivery, said DeFord. He recommended IT teams educate their clinician partners and train and retrain them when needed. “A lot of IS people think their job is purely technical, but I would say it’s really about relationships,” DeFord added. “A big part of the conversation I have with my staff regularly is about teammates.”

DeFord said that IT departments need to view the people they support and provide services to as teammates. One area DeFord mentioned that helped improve relationships and teamwork at Seattle Children’s Hospital was when his IT team began treating the researchers at its research institute as partners, rather than customers, to help manage and prioritize the organization’s limited resources.

DeFord also urged healthcare IT leaders to adopt his motto, “Semper Gumby,” to remain flexible in the midst of uncertainty. “As we move into the next couple of phases of healthcare reform, it’s time to get comfortable with your ‘uncomfortableness,’” he said. “It’s another great reason to say that everything you can systematize and everything you can document, create procedures and processes [to do it], and get all that laid out and continue going back and improving it.”

Another area that DeFord said that specifically helped his organization refine its data analysis processes was a data visualization tool (from the Seattle, Wash.-based Tableau Software). The tool that pulls and interprets data from his organization’s enterprise data warehouse allows internal analysts do their work more effectively and help solve problems locally, he said. DeFord added that the tool allows his executives to drill down on information, like for instance, the utilization of the DaVinci robot in surgery suites from Monday through Wednesdays, which allows his team to optimize care to affect change. He said having an enterprise license for the tool improved security as well, as analysts were no longer creating risk by saving spreadsheets on their computers or to thumb drives.

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