One-on-One with Methodist Hospital CIO Kara Marx | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

One-on-One with Methodist Hospital CIO Kara Marx

April 7, 2008
by root
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With her background as a nurse, CIO Kara Marx is able to tell clinicians she’s walked in their shoes.
Methodist Hospital, founded in 1903, is a 460-bed, not-for-profit hospital serving the central San Gabriel Valley in California. The JCAHO-accredited organization provides acute care services such as medical, surgical, perinatal, pediatrics, oncology, intensive care (neonatal and adult), and cardiovascular, including open-heart surgery. HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra recently had a chance to chat with Marx about her work.

AG: When exactly did you start in the CIO role at Methodist?

KM: I started as a consultant and then they hired me on.

AG: When did you come over as a consultant?

KM: In about June of 2006.

AG: In June ’06, you were a consultant, and were you functioning as a CIO in that role?

KM: Interim, yes.

AG: How long did it take between June and when they hired you on full time?

KM: It was about a year.

AG: And were you interested in becoming the fulltime CIO — what was the dynamic there?

KM: That’s a good question. It’s not necessarily that I was pursuing it, but I have the attributes that they needed here for the project moving forward. The existing environment was a lot of long-term IT department managers who really knew operations and knew applications, but there was little knowledge and experience with strategy and what was going on in the industry and how to lead something and actually market the IT department and gain buy in from the stakeholders. That’s really what I brought in and since it was such a good match — it was just such like a natural fit — it made sense for me to stay. Originally, it wasn’t what I was pursuing.

AG: What were you pursuing, or is that off topic?

KM: I guess it’s a bit off topic, but I mean just a career in consulting. I don’t know if you found my auto-signature. My background is nursing. I have a Master’s degree in healthcare administration. I really just always wanted to be in healthcare IT because of my clinical background, and because I really have a belief and passion for it, but I had worked for a software vendor for eight years with one of the big players.

AG: Can you tell me who?

KM: Cerner. I’m very grateful to them because actually I learned a lot about software development and implementations. And then I wanted to round out my background, so I went into the consulting industry and spent some time with First Consulting and then with HealthLinks. I felt like that was really where I needed to spend more time and continue to round out my skills. I wanted to continue to work in healthcare IT in some capacity and enjoyed the strategy, but if you work for a consulting company, you can continue to do at a lot of different levels. So it wasn’t that if anyone had asked me a few years ago what do you want to do, my first reply was not I’m on a CIO path. My answer is, to be able to make a difference and help other people who have the same passion achieve success and change healthcare. If I need to do that as a project manager or a CIO, I mean, it’s more of my passion than the outcome.

AG: Was the offer to become a CIO just too good to pass up? What was it about this offer that attracted you?

KM: It really was the organization and what they needed and what I could provide them. It was such an ideal fit that I wanted to help them reach their goals. One of the pinnacle events was they signed a significant contract with Eclipsys for an EMR implementation. I assisted with the contract negotiations, and since I was intimate with the contract, it made sense when they said, ‘Hey, can you stay and help us do it since we’ve never done this before.’ I said, ‘You have a good point, and I think you need my help, and I think I’m a good fit.’ I’m more driven personally about being able to make a difference and contribute in mutual successes, so that’s where I thought I could provide based on where I was in my career.

AG: I know you are a nurse.

KM: I am. My license is current in New York, as a matter of fact.

AG: Tell me about your nursing experience; were you a floor nurse for many years?

KM: Yes. As a matter of fact, I had 10 years of inpatient and outpatient ambulatory experience nursing.

AG: What facility were you with — what hospital?

KM: St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, and then I worked for a large family practice group — a 30-physician practice up there — and it had grown throughout the years, but when I left it was about a 30-physician practice also in the Syracuse area (family practice medicine). I had background in both sides of care spectrum.

AG: And you just had a natural affinity for IT?

KM: It’s actually kind of an interesting story. I don’t mind telling it. I met a physician at SUNY Health Science Center, and he was a neuropathologist practicing telemedicine. This was about in 1996. We were doing some joint work together with the Alzheimer’s Association. He would tell me these fantastic stories about how he would do telemedicine consults on children having brain surgery and being able to say on the spot to a surgeon working on a child in Binghamton to cut out more tissue or have a larger biopsy. I thought, wow, what a difference technology is making in healthcare. He told me there is this whole emerging industry on computers and video technology. I said this is what I want to do. I had finished graduate school and my options were to start an administrative position in a hospital or seek this new path. I quit my job and searched the Internet and came across Cerner. I never had heard of them before.

Early on, the vendors back in 1996 were not necessarily a lot of flash. It was the old SMS and things like that. I said I want to work in healthcare IT. I just think it’s going to change everything and what do I have to do. Cerner hired me and I was being moved to Washington D.C. I spent four years there with them and then they moved me out to the Phoenix area, and I spent another approximate four years there, and then I left them because I felt like I wanted to grow into some other skills.

AG: So rather than getting an informatics degree, you got your working for Cerner.

KM: Oh yes, it was, “I want to know.” I’m a nurse and I have passion and energy, and I thought that America Online was really interesting. That was the time when all the Internet first movers were coming out. I got my first computer and I just thought things are going change and I want to be a part of it.

AG: So you went from Cerner to First Consulting?

KM: Yes, that is correct.

AG: How important is having a clinical background to being an effective CIO?

KM: I think that for me it’s critical and I leverage it regularly. This organization sees the value in clinical involvement in IT, I think, as you heard from Jason Miranda, the manager for clinical informatics here. He is invested in his role, and he has a staff of three people under him. That’s only a portion of the story.

Clinical informatics really represents the nursing department well, but there are a lot of other areas, particularly the physician community, where you need to get some instant creditability, and you need them to be your partner and then buy into the same strategy and vision. Pretty regularly, I’ll use clinical scenarios to get my point across of what we’re trying to achieve. It just helps significantly to talk their language and tell them that you’ve walked in their shoes, and it becomes a very powerful telling the story to get their buy in.

I’m not saying that other people can’t do it because they can use the same words, but I think it saves me a lot of time to get buy in. It helps my staff too. I spend a lot of time with my staff where — no one on my staff has a clinical degree — they need that insight as well, because the hospital’s mission and values are very patient centric, obviously, and sometimes even when we’re looking at a billing application, we always have to remember the patient. That’s a natural inclination for me. Whenever we’re talking about portal remote access, or a patient reading the bill. I have responsibility for telecom too, so just thinking about noise levels in patients’ rooms when we’re evaluating devices, I think I bring a more unique perspective because I’ve been there.

AG: Tell me about your IT architecture. You mentioned your work with Eclipsys. Is that your core clinical vendor?

Click here for Part II

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