It’s been less than a year since Suma Gaddam stepped into the role of CIO at Care New England (CNE), and already she’s turned the once-fledgling IT department into the pulse of the Providence, Rhode Island-based hospital chain.
For Gaddam, who has successful tech overhauls at hospitals in Arizona and Kansas under her belt, it’s business as usual. An electronic health record (EHR) expert, and ardent promoter of integrated, research-based technology initiatives, Gaddam believes health-care IT must act as a strategic partner to a hospital’s business operations.
“Our team exists to enable health-care professionals to do meaningful things for the community,” she says. “We might be a silent partner, but we’re the ‘think caps’ of the business, and we have a lot to offer.”
Today, CNE operates with a revamped IT structure that emphasizes research, reliability, and interoffice unity. Here’ a look at how Gaddam restructured the department in less than four quarters.
As a newcomer with an inherited team and antiquated infrastructure, Gaddam’s first few weeks were marked by simple observation, she says. Taking the time to understand how her new team worked (and how it didn’t), and observing prevailing technological inefficiencies allowed Gaddam to create an actionable blueprint for the future. After a few weeks, she put together a budget for the overhaul and presented it to CNE’s board.
“When I first came in, there was significant underinvestment, and a lot of pent up demand both on the business and the IT sides,” Gaddam says. “Noting those inefficiencies, identifying opportunities with the most value-add to the organization, and getting dollars approved to address them, was a central focus.”
After the budget was approved, Gaddam’s next step was to transform CNE’s senior IT personnel. “It wasn’t a team that was working well with each other; it was dysfunctional,” she says. “They were thinking in silos, as opposed to aligning themselves and their teams toward broader, organizational objectives.”
“We’re trying to move away from the model of everyone trying to provide care and nobody working together. A lot of industries have been paperless for a long time. Health care is finally catching up.”
To change this, Gaddam began encouraging cross functional teams to meet frequently to identify and bring forward issues, discuss potential solutions, and make recommendations. Today, senior IT leaders and frontline staff regularly engage with one another and with the business leaders in purposeful dialogue, opening up all venues for collaboration. Gaddam also implemented a “CIO breakfast” series where frontline staff meet and talk through departmental challenges with Gaddam herself.
Perhaps most importantly, tech managers are now expected to personally, and regularly, travel to the
hospital’s seven divisions and interact with key stakeholders. “An IT team is usually a sizable group of people and is often removed from the hubbub of clinical operations, where it’s easy to lose track of who we serve and, most importantly, how we do it,” Gaddam says. “I tell my teams that we can’t live behind the four walls of IT; we can’t wait for business to knock on IT’s door.”
Across the country, health-care facilities are moving toward electronic record keeping and digital paper charts, or EHRs, to reduce error and increase data gathering efforts. At conglomerate medical centers like CNE, which has several health-care facilities under one umbrella, the tighter integration of patient records is more crucial than ever. Utilizing EHR systems can bridge information gaps and integrate patients’ family and social history, enabling patients to be partners in their care through technology.
Gaddam’s previous experience overseeing EHR integration in past roles put her in a unique position to help CNE roll out Epic, an EHR system that reformats medical records, billing procedures, and scheduling into entirely paperless procedures. Gaddam stresses that when the data contained in electronic records is leveraged correctly, they can impact quality and cost of health care and lead to better patient outcomes.
“We’re trying to move away from the model of everyone trying to provide care and nobody working together,” she says. “A lot of industries have been paperless for a long time. Health care is finally catching up.”
When Gaddam joined CNE, many of the health center’s computers were outdated —most of the PCs had been at the facility for more than a decade, and about half were nonfunctional in certain facilities. Gaddam set out to change that.
“No one wants to come to work and not have a functioning PC,” she says. “They caused a huge amount of dissatisfaction among the physicians and the clinical staff. We had to make a change.”
Through a partnership with Dell and VMWare, Gaddam’s team began replacing the computers and revamping the infrastructure that doctors, nurses, and hospital staff use to interface with patients. Today, in many of CNE’s centers, staff use “tap in and tap out” technology, with an application that allows personnel to simply approach a terminal and log in by using a hardware badge. According to Gaddam, by the end of 2016, all patient areas at CNE will use the application.
“It’s not ‘one and done’— technology changes on a daily basis and we have to keep up.”
“Building the security it takes to make the application available without any lags and delays took a significant amount of work,” she says. “But now physicians and clinicians can spend more time with patients and less time on logins.”
As Gaddam enters the final quarter of her first year, she’s working on leveraging the data her team has collected, and the lessons they’ve learned through CNE’s tech transformation, to further bridge the gap between business and IT.
“It’s not ‘one and done’—technology changes on a daily basis and we have to keep up,” she says. “All of this has been foundational work for what we want to do in the future. We want to be a leader in our community. That’s really the driver.”
Gaddam is pleased her new employer views technology “as an advantage rather than an expense,” she says. But she’s still looking for ways to improve IT. “We have a lot of meaningful work left to do.”