Keeping Healthy with Data Agility

ProHealth Care CIO and vice president of IT Christine Bessler has watched the classic model of healthcare IT lose relevance every day. She leverages strategic and operational planning to continuously improve ProHealth Care’s IT systems and implement new technology.

Christine Bessler has seen analytics become more and more integral to healthcare-IT strategy every day that she’s worked at her position as CIO of a healthcare system. “The old-fashioned way of developing an IT strategy is no longer suitable for us at ProHealth Care,” she says. “Developing a static three-year plan is not really where [we’re headed] today.”

Bessler, the chief information officer and vice president of information technology for the organization, has more than thirty years of IT experience. An IT-systems engineer early in her career, Bessler became well versed in healthcare IT through consulting and brings her accumulated knowledge and experience to her current role.

In Bessler’s view, the role of the CIO has developed increasingly into that of a strategic partner to operational leaders. Her job is to understand the pain points of the organization, how those points manifest as symptoms of particular issues, and how technology can be applied as the solution.

“There is very little that you can do today that doesn’t touch technology.”

This process is most successful when IT decision makers are included in strategic and operational discussions. If they are not, then even the best tech infrastructures can fail at resolving important issues. “There is very little that you can do today that doesn’t touch technology,” Bessler says. “Not thinking about it ahead of time is just not wise anymore.”

Bessler recalls one specific example where ProHealth Care, one of the first healthcare organizations to offer 3-D mammography in southeastern Wisconsin, was preparing to launch the program before fully consulting IT. She called a time out.

“We weren’t set up to store the amount of data that 3-D images require,” Bessler says. “That’s a really obvious example of how IT needs to be at the table. The total cost of ownership has to be part of the planning.”

Likewise, healthcare-executive leadership teams are learning through experience why, how, and when to include IT in high-level planning.

One way Bessler ensures that IT is appropriately involved in decision making is through ProHealth Care’s IT Business Partner program. Bessler engages her IT team with customers in order to develop stronger business relationships. Building these relationships, she hopes, will help create more transparency in IT.

In the program, clinical informaticists are often selected as the IT resource to pair with customers, as each side can benefit from fully understanding the other.

Bessler also leads quarterly meetings with the company’s business partners and the IT team, which have helped catalyze exchanges of new information and critical dialogues. The partners’ executives and leaders learn about the latest in IT, and ProHealth Care IT professionals learn to better identify with business interests.

As a result of these partnerships—and the clearer understanding of data challenges that they have produced—ProHealth Care was ready to roll out an integration of Epic’s Cogito, which utilizes a data-warehouse model and a Microsoft-product suite to give providers a one-stop scorecard. By integrating this into the system, Bessler and her team have been able to consolidate information in a meaningful way for their providers.

“If you’re a provider, you’re barraged with all kinds of metrics,” Bessler says. “Everyone is looking at certain metrics, whether for payers, CMS, or meaningful use. With this scorecard, our providers have a really simple tool that shows them how they’re performing; it’s all consolidated into one view. This has enabled our providers to focus on the right patient populations and enable reductions in healthcare costs.”

Constant updates of IT strategy, in pursuit of efficiencies and lower costs, are key to the organization’s future, Bessler stresses. “We’ve become a lot more focused on the importance of technology. You’ve just got to stay ahead of it; you have to stay agile.”

Staying agile can be more challenging than it sounds, as it also requires convincing customers to accept technological change. And, according to Bessler, human-change management is at the root of some of IT’s greatest challenges. She has to prepare people to accept different levels of change, from new governance structures to new IT-guiding principles.

For example, ProHealth Care’s release-management-cycle program now assures that certain technological updates and rollouts are performed once per quarter. By aligning releases, the organization can integrate testing and training, and customers don’t become overwhelmed by change. This is just one way in which the IT team contributes to ProHealth Care’s leadership in Wisconsin’s Waukesha County.

“Technologically, we’re on the leading edge in many areas,” Bessler says. “I’m very proud of the alignment our IT team has had with our governance structure. The days of not knowing where IT stands are long gone. We have become demonstrably more transparent and are known for providing efficiencies.”

ProHealth Care recently integrated with AboutHealth, a network of top-performing regional healthcare systems in Wisconsin. The aim is to improve population health, quality, and efficiency so that each system can meet its own individual successes. Members can then share lessons learned about best practices and are able to institute policies as major as clinical-practice guidelines.

Shortly after getting involved with the network, the organization conducted a diabetes pilot with three participating member systems. The pilot measured how much of the total patient population was represented across all three systems. ProHealth Care represented the Waukesha County population; a second system represented the population in an area close to Waukesha County; and the third represented a population farther away.

As a result, the analytics supported a greater appreciation for clinical integration work within AboutHealth. That’s data that isn’t so readily available anywhere else. Membership in AboutHealth enabled the three systems to undertake the pilot—and IT played a key role.

“Clinical integration ensures every patient is getting the same quality of care,” Bessler says, “no matter where they go.”