Making Data Work for a Healthier World

Gil Hoffman is leading Mercy in collecting and analyzing the explosion of health-care data

Mercy health system helps individuals, but it operates on grand scales. With a multistate service area encompassing forty-six acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic, and rehab) hospitals and more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities in Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas, Mercy is the seventh largest Catholic health-care system in the United States, serving millions of patients each year.

As would be expected of such a large institution, Mercy generates a lot of health-care data. Ensuring this information is efficiently collected, responsibly managed, and accurately evaluated falls on the shoulders of Gil Hoffman, Mercy’s vice president and chief information officer.

Mercy uses its unified electronic health record (EHR) system and data analytics to improve patient care and outcomes and to help drive more informed business decisions. “We have a highly integrated EHR platform, so care is coordinated across locations in both the inpatient and outpatient settings,” Hoffman says. “But beyond consolidating the information and making it highly available, we have also paid special attention over many years to optimize the system’s performance so less time is spent documenting care and more time can go to delivering it.”

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Gilbert Hoffman, Mercy, VP & CIO

Doing Good With Data

Since Hoffman took the reins in November 2012, Mercy has won InformationWeek’s Top 250 Innovator award, earned recognition as an Analytics All-Star by Health Data Management magazine two years in a row, and been named in Health Care’s Most Wired—an annual survey sponsored by Hospitals & Health Networks and an honor that Mercy has earned twelve times in fifteen years.

Most recently, Mercy was among just one of twelve companies, including Google and Cisco, to receive the 2015 Computerworld Data + Editors’ Choice Award, based on its ability to use data to make better decisions.

Hoffman, for his part, has been named by Computerworld as one of the top 100 ClOs in the United States and by Becker’s Hospital Review as one of the nation’s 100 Hospital and Health Systems CIOs to Know, recognizing his ability to leverage technology to further Mercy’s mission while elevating the level of patient care.

Over time, Mercy has embedded clinical pathways into its EHR system, which provides predetermined treatment paths as they relate to specific conditions. Today, rather than relying solely on medical literature to dictate best practices and the subsequent treatment path, Mercy is analyzing its own practices thanks to data collected from the patient record to observe what’s working and what’s not. For example, Mercy observed that a group of physicians was giving hip replacement patients a certain type of medication. This particular drug reduced the need for other post-surgery medications and resulted in quicker recovery time.Almost a decade of experience and mastery of the patient record system helped Mercy to become the first hospital accredited by Epic, its Wisconsin-based EHR vendor. “We’ve deployed Epic’s EHR to over forty hospitals and earned the reputation for doing it well,” Hoffman says. “Now, we’re helping other hospitals install, host, and manage Epic, as well as apply more advanced analytics, to really get the value that they need. We dramatically reduce the risk because we are a user who knows the ins and outs, and we’re able to reduce the time to market.”

These days, Mercy has broadened its strategy to go beyond the EHR as a single source of data. By bringing external data, like claims, into its data warehouse and embedding that information back into the EHR, Mercy can gain a better understanding of patients’ needs.

“With more data, we can better monitor high-risk patients, reach out when tests are due, and close gaps in care so patients stay healthier and out of the hospital,” Hoffman says.

Mercy is also combining clinical and financial data to give leaders insight into its operations and a clearer understanding of cost and outcomes. “This industry is under great pressure to contain costs,” Hoffman explains. “Our data infrastructure organizes volumes of data and delivers it in streamlined dashboards so that it’s uncluttered and we can answer questions about a particular service line.”

Case in point: Mercy’s perioperative service dashboard, which is now in its second year of use and has helped uncover and compare the cost and outcomes of different physicians, procedures, supplies, and manufacturers. With this information, leaders can pinpoint the best outcome and cost and implement the same standards across the board. Likewise, Mercy can know where there is underutilized space, which also reduces waste. These kinds of data-driven capabilities have helped drive millions in savings.

Another Mercy initiative in which Hoffman and his team will play a key role is virtual care. Mercy is opening the world’s first virtual care center in Chesterfield, Missouri, which will house teams of doctors, nurses, researchers, specialists, and support staff. “Telemedicine is a way to expand specialized care where those services are needed,” he says. “We can observe patients via video and monitor their progress remotely.”

Hoffman sees a world where people no longer have to travel two to three hours to get specialized care. This is especially important for serving those in rural communities, or those who can’t stay in the hospital for an extended period of time. Mercy’s virtual staff members can provide a variety of life-saving services, such as twenty-four-hour monitoring of ICU patients and patients at risk of sepsis.

Quality patient care also involves creating service when and where the patient wants it. “In today’s world, everyone wants things mobile, self service, or at least over the web with patient portals. The immediacy of that service is critical. Technology and data will not only be expected to deliver services, but also to help build relationships with our customers,” Hoffman explains.

Creating so many innovative, award-winning projects takes more than computer smarts. Hoffman credits his team and his delegation management style. “That’s the only way a CIO can survive,” he says. “I try to build a culture associated with high-quality service. Because IT always takes a hit for not being fast enough and technology is a big expense, we have to demonstrate our value. I look for people who understand the current state, the benchmarks, what’s better, and how we raise the bar.”

Hoffman admits that his journey has been different, as he didn’t come from a health-care background. “The first ninety days, I didn’t think I was going to make it—[I was] just trying to communicate and understand.” While he says he originally felt the need to know everything a cardiologist or health specialist would know, he eventually decided to focus on simply understanding the problems they were trying to solve. “Once I did, I could apply my IT experience to bring greater value,” he says. “Coming from other industries, health care was almost a decade behind in analytics, mobile devices, etc., and based on my experience, I was able to bring solutions to market a little faster once I decided to stop trying to figure out everything.”  

Photo by Christopher Ryan