On first blush, you might think Vincennes, Ind.-based Good Samaritan Hospital is just another small community healthcare provider in the heartland of America. At 232 beds, how much could be possibly be happening on the IT front? But upon closer look, it’s clear this organization is different. Good Samaritan offers a range of medical services, as well as some of the most progressive technology available today. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when your CIO has been chairman of the HIMSS board. To learn more about what’s going on at GSH, and pick the brain of a top CIO about HITECH, HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra recently talked with Chuck Christian.
GUERRA: Have you read the book Good to Great?
CHRISTIAN: I’ve read it in pieces, but I haven’t sat and read it all the way through.
GUERRA: Because your bus analogy reminded me of Collins’ example in the book.
CHRISTIAN: That’s right.
GUERRA: Are there any mentoring programs out there for CIOs that you recommend, such as something from CHIME or HIMSS?
CHRISTIAN: CHIME does have a full mentoring program, and I’ve been a mentor and a mentee at different times. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have a network of individuals in the industry that you trust, and that’s what I’ve gotten through my relationships in CHIME and HIMSS. Through those organizations I know others have experienced these things I’m going through so that I can pick up the phone, I can call these guys and ladies, who I consider my friends. I can’t express the value that those relationships have brought me over the years.
The other thing I did early in my career, when I was trying to figure out the CIO thing, is that I got to know a few people in the industry who I thought were visionary leaders. You’ve got John Glaser, who’s always out there, John Wade, there is another guy, Buddy Hickman, Ward Keever and Bill Montgomery, all guys that I met early in my career through a variety of organizations. I watched how they handled themselves professionally, read the stuff they wrote, and watched their careers. I told John Wade, “You know, John, a long time ago when we first met, I told myself if you can be more like this guy and learn how he interacts and what he does, you will not go wrong.” And, of course, he apologized that I had picked such a sorry role model (laughing). It’s been really great. John has been a good friend over the years, and I had the pleasure of following him as chair of HIMSS where I got to experience his leadership. Buddy was right before him, Blackford (Middleton) was right before him, so I’ve had the opportunity of watching some really great role models for me, and I can count those guys as friends of mine, not only as professional acquaintances. And so the other thing that’s important is going to these professional organization meetings and creating those networks of individuals and trying to connect with as much of the industry as possible.
The other thing that’s helpful is reading publications like yours and others that are out there, there’s just a wealth of information, but you really must get outside the walls of your organization. You cannot expect to have everything come to you. And so you do that through some virtual experiences, such as Webinars, especially now when travel budgets have been cut.
The other thing is once you start volunteering for things, you’ll expand your acquaintances and have an opportunity to have conversations and learn from the experiences of others.
But you also have to understand what your limitations are. Several years ago, CHIME had an opportunity called 360 Evaluation, and I took advantage of that. The fee wasn’t that expensive, and so you were encouraged to get people all around you to talk about your strengths and weaknesses, people in your personal life, in your professional life, the people that you reported to and above them, and the people that reported to you, and you get this holistic view of who you are. It’s really an interesting thing because I think everybody has this vision of, “How I am, what are my skills, where are my strong points, where are my weaknesses,” and it’s really humbling to get a nice holistic view of who you are. Then you do a comparative analysis about how you think you’re doing with those skills versus what other people are telling you in a variety of locations.
GUERRA: So that was pretty valuable?
CHRISTIAN: Oh, it’s extremely valuable. And that’s been probably six or seven years ago, and I’m actually considering looking for another opportunity to do it again. I want to see if I’ve grown, if I’ve gotten better or worse, and find opportunities for growth. The other thing is there’s a whole bunch more around healthcare operations that I need to learn, even though I’ve learned a great deal. Things are just changing so quickly that I get to learn something a little different every day.
GUERRA: I’m impressed that you’ve been in the business 25 years and you’re still absolutely excited about learning.
GUERRA: I think the key question is, are you going to let your four daughters respond in that 360 Evaluation?
CHRISTIAN: Absolutely. I have to brag for a minute, Anthony. These young ladies absolutely blew me away. I’ve encouraged them to find something that they’re passionate about to do for their career and told them if they do that, they’ll never have to work a day in their life.
My oldest daughter works with handicapped kids, disabled kids in a school corporation up in Ripple, Ind., it’s a smaller community than Vincennes, believe it or not. My number two daughter is a first grade teacher in Rushville, Ind., once again, another smaller town than Vincennes, about an hour out of Indianapolis. My number three daughter is in graduate school. In May, she’ll graduate with her Master’s degree in social work. My fourth daughter, the baby, is going to be a nurse or a teacher. She can’t make up her mind. She’s a sophomore in college this year.
So I would like to believe they got all that from their mother. I know they got their great looks from their mother. They didn’t get it from me; I can guarantee you. I want them to be as passionate about what they do as I am about what I do. Some days, I go home after I’ve been ground up into fine powder because I’m not able to accomplish what I’d like to accomplish in the timeframe that I’d like to get it done. Sometimes there’s just too many pieces to it, but I’ve got a great crew.
I mean, my team, I can’t say enough about them. You would not think in a town the size of Vincennes, Ind., you would find as many passionate, talented people as I have. Every time I’ve had an opening or I’m going to grow my staff, there’s been somebody who has just been an extraordinary talent that we’ve been able to acquire. Now, granted, we’ve hired a bunch of folks that didn’t know anything about healthcare, but we saw they had potential and gave them the opportunity to grow. I have never been let down by any of them.
GUERRA: We talked about being involved in the industry, but how do you ensure you don’t overbook yourself? We all have that day job to get done.
CHRISTIAN: Well, I think you’re absolutely correct. The thing about it is once you start engaging, your name gets out there. I’ve probably turned down more speaking engagements than I’ve accepted. I have turned down at least four in the last three weeks because I just don’t have the bandwidth. For whatever reason, my employer expects me to do some real work (laughing). It’s a matter of balance, and there’s also some personal bandwidth you have to worry about, because when you’re traveling to do whatever, there’s a time commitment of not only just being out of the office, but balancing that when you get back. And at some point in time you have to know what your limitations are.
On the positive side of that, you learn some really great time management skills, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there have been several occasions in the last year or so that I felt absolutely overwhelmed. I just felt like I was just not the right guy to get all the stuff done. It all turned out really well, but I don’t really know how to tell you how not to overcommit. April of this year was a really, really busy time for me. I had regional presentations to do, HIMSS National to do, and we had this thing called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act we had to worry about (laughing).
GUERRA: I think I’ve heard of it. (laughing)
CHRISTIAN: It’s been a privilege to be involved in those activities, and I have learned so much from the folks involved in the Indiana HIE from a variety of angles. And so I think that you can have a tendency to do too much, but it goes back to the little saying that if you want something done, asks a busy guy to do it.
So there is a grand opportunity to be over booked. John Glaser and John Halamka, some of these other guys, I just don’t know how they do it. I told both of those guys, “It’s got to have something to do with being named John.” You have John Halamka, John Wade, John Glaser, all these Johns are out here who are so busy, but I think it’s because they are so passionate about what they do. They’re very, very good at it. I just wish I was as smart as those guys are, but I also have the opportunity to interact with them and learn, and so I really do appreciate that. I appreciate when guys like that are willing to share what they know with the rest of us.
That’s why I like to share as much as I can. If I have something to offer that someone would find valuable, I’m happy to share it.