Chuck Deckert Transforms IT at Sharp HealthCare

Chuck Deckert is helping make technology an ongoing business partner at Sharp Community Medical Group

When Chuck Deckert first interviewed with Sharp HealthCare and heard about the Sharp Experience, he thought it was a clever public relations idea. Now, as the organization’s vice president, health information technology solutions and fifteen years later, he views the concept very differently.

“The Sharp Experience is a commitment to providing patients with the best possible care across all domains, including the clinical experience, and really does shape everything we do,” Deckert says. “When I started working here, we were making system configuration decisions, and the first question was, ‘Which option is going to benefit patient care and safety the most?’”

Because Sharp offers care in underserved and less affluent communities, the same mind-set is directed at developing cost-effective solutions that maintain patient access to care.

The Sharp Experience has also added to the ongoing evolution of IT becoming an active business partner within the organization. Sharp Community Medical Group (SCMG) CEO Paul Durr helped provide the vision of IT having a seat at the table rather than simply being given work orders after critical decisions have already been made.

Chuck Deckert, Sharp HealthCare

“Paul wants us in nearly every conversation so we can contribute to creating solutions,” Deckert says. “Once we present a strong rationale for a particular approach, he’s also very good about providing necessary resources. He never pulls out a spreadsheet to point to what our budget was supposed to be.”

Instilling the idea of IT as consultants and partners wasn’t an easy sell when Deckert started managing his first medical IT team at SCMG. He estimates that although a quarter of the original group welcomed the idea, another quarter took a skeptical wait-and-see attitude and half the team looked for opportunities elsewhere.

Since then, they have been able to develop a cohesive and highly effective department.

“At the end of the day, no one has a deep sense of satisfaction from installing software or building a server,” Deckert says. “But if you create a solution that helps a practice see twenty more patients a month, you can feel good about improving access to care.”

SCMG’s IT group has also taken on more extensive communication responsibilities that sometimes go beyond the typical role of technology specialists. In one instance, the team implementing a new clinical system at a particular practice reported that the project was not going to be successful due to interpersonal issues between the practice physician and medical assistant. Deckert had to deliver the message that the implementation wouldn’t continue until the issues were resolved.

“In the old days, we would have simply blamed system implementation problems on the practice since the system would have been installed properly,” he says. “As partners, though, we’re providing a solution, not just the technology. So, I have to address the underlying issues.”

Three months later, the staff resolved its issues, the project resumed and was, in fact, quite successful.

To help gain broader acceptance of IT’s new role, Deckert makes every effort to explain why and how its recommendations align with Sharp’s overall objectives. For example, physicians generally hated an electronic prescription application when it was introduced because each entry took much longer to enter than using a traditional paper prescription pad. The project team was able to win them over when they demonstrated the improvements the new system made in everything from compliance and transparency to phone calls from pharmacists attempting to decipher prescribers’ handwriting.

He’s able to offer that kind of reasoning and support because of IT’s broad reach throughout the organization. The IT team is in contact with nearly every department and visits community practices on an almost daily basis. That enables the IT team to develop firsthand insights into business challenges and to gain clients’ trust, Deckert says.

Those abilities will certainly be called on as the IT team introduces additional innovations to further improve the Sharp Experience. They are working toward implementing a new patient portal and shared patient charts that will build collaboration between patients and clinicians. They are expected to greatly increase patient understanding of and compliance with treatment plans, but will require physicians to adjust the way they complete their clinical documentation, being mindful that the information is shared across the health system and with patients themselves.

The introduction of enterprise medical records will also benefit care team collaboration. They will eliminate siloed information by creating a single record of care that is available to all offices, clinicians, and departments. Because the records will provide prior notice, for example, primary care physicians will no longer be surprised by a patient visit on Monday morning after a weekend trip to the hospital emergency department. 

“The changes and challenges we’re facing in healthcare are huge and complex,” Deckert says. “To create effective solutions, we have to enlist people, processes, and tools that everyone uses so we can work together.”

Divine IT Inspiration

As a former pastor, Chuck Deckert brought an unusual background to his IT career. However, he sees many similarities between the two worlds, especially as IT has come to be viewed as a business partner, not just a tech specialist. “I went into ministry to help build supportive communities,” Deckert says. “In my current role, I still try to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.” His congregational work taught him valuable lessons about change management, sales and marketing, collaboration, project and conflict management, and effective communication—all skills that help develop effective solutions for, and with, his clients.

Photo by Andrew Burns

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