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One-on-One with Clara Maass CIO Don Lutz

February 11, 2010
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When it comes to data exchange, Lutz is focused on connecting his own physicians before going statewide.

Don Lutz is CIO at Clara Maass Medical Center, a 445-bed community hospital located in Belleville, N.J. An affiliate of the six-hospital Saint Barnabas Health Care System (Livingston, N.J.), Clara Maass provides a complete continuum of care to residents of northern New Jersey. Recently, HCI’s Kate Huvane Gamble spoke with Lutz about what his organization’s efforts to connect physicians, his future plans, and his thoughts on ARRA-HITECH.


KG: How long have you been in your position, and what was your prior experience?

DL: I’ve been CIO for about three years, and before that I was a consultant. Overall, I’ve been in health IT for probably 15 to 20 years.


KG: Clara Maass is part of St. Barnabas Health Care System. How does this work in terms of the reporting structure?

DL: The corporate CIO of St. Barnabas is Joe Sullivan. We’re in contact pretty often, but I wouldn’t say we speak daily. Our hospital — and all of St. Barnabas’ hospitals — act as separate entities.


KG: Last year, Clara Maass signed a deal with Axolotl to implement its Elysium Exchange HIE solution to facilitate data sharing among physicians. Is that live?

DL: Yes. We have approximately 20 physicians on it, and that went live last April. They can share information and also forward it along to other doctors. It was one of our goals to be able to electronically exchange clinical information securely in our organization.

Elysium Exchange allows the doctors to view lab, radiology, admissions, discharge, and any transcription records. It’s a subscription program, so they pay per month to be part of it.

They can also do e-prescribing; that’s a big piece of it.


KG: What about outside of the organization? Are you involved in any statewide HIEs?

DL: The state wants to connect everything together as well as the federal government, but in New Jersey, that’s going to be pretty tough. Number one, they don’t have the money, and number two, the state HIT commission really has not impressed me, as far as the way they’re awarding these sites.


KG: What type of EMR system is being used?

DL: The physician offices use Axolotl’s EMR Lite — they call it that because it doesn’t come with scheduling or billing. And in the hospital, we really don’t have an up-to-date EMR. We’re looking into systems right now. The entire system is currently looking into CPOE.


KG: As far as setting up the HIE at Clara Maass, what was the buy-in from clinicians? Were they receptive?

DL: There was a lot of interest, and there continues to be. We try to do a seminar once every quarter to bring the docs and office managers in, and we’ll go out to the offices and actually demo it so they don’t have to come in here. It’s about a two-hour training session to teach them and their staff how to use it.


KG: So other than the EMR and CPOE piece, which is huge, do you have other IT plans at this time?

DL: Hopefully this year we’ll be looking to implement wireless technology throughout the medical center. And we’ll have computers on wheels, electronic charting, etc. Going from a paper-based environment to wireless is definitely going to shake the timbers at Clara Maass Medical Center. The staff is going to have to be totally retrained. It’s going to be something like they’ve never seen here before.


KG: It’s funny, but that’s what a lot of people are saying about ARRA-HITECH. As a CIO, do you think the legislation is being rushed?

DL: You always worry about that because you’re looking at resources. I look at it from the business and the technical end of it — number one, having the money to pay for it, and number two, training for the staff. Additional FTEs are going to be added, plus temporary people for the project to help get it off the ground. That’s what keeps me up at night, because of the money and the maintenance.

I’ll be the one going to the presidents, executive directors and CFOs of the hospital and saying, this is what it’s going to cost you. This is what I need to implement it, as far as the number of FTEs. I mean, you can’t put in CPOE without wireless. That’s big bucks, and then there’s the maintenance once the system is up. You have to do backfilling for the nursing staff when they’re training, so you have to pay nurses overtime.

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