Unpacking the Gains in HCA Healthcare’s HIT Governance Evolution | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

Unpacking the Gains in HCA Healthcare’s HIT Governance Evolution

July 2, 2018
by Mark Hagland
| Reprints
HCA Healthcare executives shared with HIT Summit attendees learnings from the evolution of their HIT governance process

On Friday, June 29, during the Health IT Summit in Nashville, sponsored by Healthcare Informatics, two executives from the Nashville-based HCA Healthcare shared their learnings and perspectives around their organization’s streamlined project governance model.

Speaking at the Sheraton Hotel Nashville Downtown, Karen Thompson, associate vice president, strategy and innovation, and Dr. Edmund Jackson, vice president and chief data scientist, both based in the organization’s Nashville headquarters, told Summit attendees about the complex but successful path forward through healthcare IT project prioritization that they and their colleagues at HCA are pursuing these days, as the demands on everyone’s time and resources accelerate in the current healthcare operating environment, in a dual presentation entitled “Govern Not Squash: The Road to Building a Flexible Clinical IT Governance Model.”

To begin with, Thompson and Jackson referenced the fact that HCA Healthcare is a huge organization, one that encompasses 179 hospitals, 1,800 total sites of care, 240,000 employees, 37,000 active physicians, 80,000 nurses, and 27.1 million patient encounters every year, across 20 states.

That alone has made for a complex, challenging journey. “Many people, when they think of governance, think, ‘hall monitor,’” Thompson said. “But that’s not what this is about. In this space, we’re always talking about innovation; we want to go faster. Governance is not something that helps you do that.” But what it does do, she said, is to help everyone in the organization get on the same page. What’s more, she said, “No, we don’t have it all worked out; it’s an ongoing journey.”

Meanwhile, Jackson said, “The data science” that supports innovation in patient care organizations “moves quickly, fails frequently, and is expected to fail. So the challenge Karen and I took on was, how do we get an agile space built into the business structure?”

As a result, Thompson, Jackson, and their colleagues came up with a three-phase conceptual solution. From 2008-2011, the focus was on standardizing and scaling the project prioritization and authorization process. From 2011-2012, the focus was on “exploring and innovating.” And, since early 2017, the focus has been on accelerating and on measuring innovation and progress.

“I’ve been at HCA a little over 12 years, the formal governance process has been in place about 15 years, and it has ebbed and failed,” Thompson said. “At first, it was like a franchise model, everyone was doing their own thing. We had to create a standardized foundation,” he reported.

Karen Thompson (r.) and Dr. Edmund Jackson (l.), during their presentation on Friday in Nashville

And, Thompson added, “Edmund and his colleagues came up with great idea, and they said, hey, we’re going to save babies’ lives. How can you say no to a baby?? But what challenged everyone was, OK, what was the priority? What if you have 15 ideas and they’re all about safety and quality? And beyond the clinical, there are other aspects of our business that we also have to pay attention to—things like registration. And things like providing physicians and nurses with the technology they need to do their jobs.” Looking at what faced them, she said, “Since we’ve been able to prioritize more, it’s been, what about quality, speed, and efficiency? How can we get faster and better, but also do it cheaper? Can we do something in 18-24 months? So you’ve got this great idea to integrate a sepsis tool. Well, we’ve got 179 hospitals. But we’ve got this great idea. OK, so pilot it. You want me to go slower? No, pilot it.”

And in that regard, Thompson noted, “We have a gate review committee. It’s like ‘Shark Tank’ with 20 of your closest colleagues! We need to be sure that we’re acting as good stewards with your money. Because sure, you’ve got a great idea. But there are 20 other colleagues who’ve got great ideas, too. So our gate review committee makes sure we prioritize our projects appropriately, and pace them correctly. And people will say as a result of going through this, they end up with a better project. And you can’t keep going to the same markets to test things,” so pilots are launched in a variety of different facilities and local healthcare markets. And, she notes, “Testing is great for us.”

Of course, Jackson said, “That was kind of a hard lesson for the innovative side to take on. Because we operate in silos, though I hate that word. And I might want to take on some kind of innovation project, and I can’t understand why Karen says she’s not ready for my project; but then I find out that there are 20 other projects like mine, and she knows that, and I don’t. and that took me a while for me to onboard and fully understand.”

Indeed, Thompson said, “We are shifting from an annual prioritization process, involving clinical, hospital operations, IT, etc.; and we have x millions of dollars to fund projects this year, and so we look at such elements as breadth, impact, and time and intensity of projects, and then we draw a line after a certain amount. But are we leaving anything on the table that it’s a priority for our company? And so now we’re doing what we call our ‘Evergreen’ prioritization process. You prioritize and integrate across strategies as opposed to just business areas. So we’re trying to look across strategies and not just business areas.”


Get the latest information on Health IT and attend other valuable sessions at this two-day Summit providing healthcare leaders with educational content, insightful debate and dialogue on the future of healthcare and technology.

Learn More